Richard Howley smoothly lands the feature Grand Prix at Kelsall Hill’s inaugural International show

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Richard Howley smoothly lands the feature Grand Prix at Kelsall Hill’s inaugural International show

Yorkshire-based Irishman Richard Howley used his final draw to maximum effect to take the top-billed world ranking Cheval Liberte and Windmill Farm Estates 2* Grand Prix at Kelsall Hill’s first International two-star event in Cheshire with HK Horses’ Zodiak Du Buisson Z.

“He’s a character and has taken time as he’s very strong-willed, but like all good horses, he’s come through and works with us now instead of against us. As riders, we have to be patient and work to get the best out of our horses,” said Richard.

Riders faced a 13-fence 1.45m track designed by Peter Gillespie who tested with a step away from the norm in an indoor environment, using a triple bar as the first element of the combination, a double of white gates, skinny planks and a bright white and turquoise wall.

“The course was big enough, testing and a lot was expected of the horse. The combination caught a lot out towards the end of the track but this is a big arena with a good surface,” said Richard.  “This was their first international [at Kelsall Hill] and the show has a lot to offer with great facilities. The team put in a lot of effort to run it and they deserve our support.”

Only seven of the original field of 46 answered every question to go forward into the jump-off, with Fraser Reed’s opening gambit aboard Westbank Rio immediately bettered by Jennifer Billington and the game Flipper Darco UK Z.  Despite known speedsters Sandy McLean on the consistent Gino F and Guy Williams with Ernie of Greenhill Z, the time could not be matched, both faulting while chasing the clock. Nonetheless, Jennifer’s time was always vulnerable with last-to-go Richard yet to challenge.

Richard has honed his skills at five-star World Cup level this season, with two major back-to-back wins under his belt with Consulent Du Prelet Z at Oslo and Helsinki.  His talent was on display in this jump-off, guiding Zodiak Du Buisson Z into smooth yet unbelievably tight lines, hugging the wings as he negotiated every tight turn option to smoothly accelerate to the final oxer and claim victory by almost three seconds.

“Going last, I knew exactly what I had to do but I stuck to my plan and stayed in a fluent pace.  He’s a very careful horse with lots of jump but I’m still figuring him out,” said Richard.

The Zirocco Blue VDL x Dutch Capitol nine-year-old Zodiak was purchased as a foal with Richard’s wife Morgan Kent taking on his education as a youngster, Richard occasionally competing him at newcomer level.

“As a youngster, he was very opinionated and strong in his will and wanted to do things his own way. His quality and ability were never questioned, but his temperament was and we had to meet him in the middle. The first years are important, Morgan was very patient with him and took him very slowly, working him up the levels to jump clear and be placed in the Bramham Grand Prix last year,” explained Richard, who took over in 2023 to contend international classes. “Now, his character will stand him in good stead, he doesn’t want to make a mistake. He has a very bright future and some big shows ahead of him this year – the first will be Abu Dhabi 5* in three weeks’ time.”   

Richard had fired a warning shot the previous day, heading the Shaw Farm Stud 2* 1.40m speed in his inimitable, deceptively quick style to take a runaway win over his 34 rivals by 5.16 seconds on Sarah Borthwick’s C Indoctro II x Corland 14-year-old mare Farianne.

“This mare has come back as good as ever,” declared Richard.  “She broke a bone in her knee out in Lisbon, Portugal, four years ago but has made a full recovery.  She had three years off – and had a now rising three-year-old foal by Cornet Obolensky which we are very excited about – and she looked super-healthy in the field, so Sarah asked if we would try her in competition again. 

“She was only 12 at the time and in good shape. We started her slowly and she won a four-star class in Spain and a class in Valkenswaard [NED] last year. It’s a fantastic comeback and a real achievement for the team, especially for Sarah.” 

Guy Williams was the man to beat in Saturday’s 47-strong Shaw Farm Stud 2* 1.40m two-phase, flying into the top spot aboard Raoul Ulrich’s 12-year-old Ernie of Greenhill Z (Emerald x Caretino) with a little over two seconds to spare over George Whitaker in second on Peanut.

George and Martin Wood’s Peanut had claimed the win in the initial 2* 1.40m, the 11-year-old Barricello x Quasimodo Z stallion outpacing 61 challengers by 0.24 seconds.  Chris Smith netted second place on Messarado Blue with Paul Sims’ Jankorado GB in third.

Paul doubled up with John Brindley’s Dutch-bred 14-year-old Oaken Fay, topping day one’s 67-horse 2* 1.25m two-phase with 1.08 seconds in hand.  The pair went on to take the 2* small tour final in a competitive 22-strong jump-off, yielded from 60 starters. Only 0.16 seconds separated the first three, Paul edging ahead by 0.15 seconds of Kieran Taylor’s Freedom with Paul Barker and Green Grass just a further 0.01 second away for third.  

Rebecca Marsh lifted the Billington Stud Farm’s 1* Grand Prix with Naviedes Gymnastics.  Seven of the 21 starters gained access to the jump-off, Rebecca executing every tight option on the track with the 13-year-old Aerobic daughter to immediately wrench the lead by more than eight seconds.  Early leader, Ireland’s Jessica Burke, had to settle for second on Romelus De Muze. 

Ronnie Jones scored a hat-trick in the Synovium Horse Health and Incrediwear UK 1* classes.  Prince Sultan Saud’s Cornet Obolensky 18-year-old mare Areeb OL picked up two wins for Ronnie, topping day one’s 1.15m two-phase by 2.54 seconds before going on to head the 1* 1.20m Bronze Final.  Ten of the 25 starters returned for the jump-off with Ronnie finding all the shortcuts to win with 1.10 seconds in hand.  Another 1.20m also fell to Ronnie, on this occasion riding Prince Sultan Saud and Old Lodge’s Abeer II OL, the 15-year-old Berlin X Cassini I mare making short work of the speed track to beat their 31 rivals by 6.39 seconds.


Image credit: KT Equine Photography

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