Drawn last to go, the reining champion was feeling both the heat and the pressure, after some of the eventing world’s leading stars clocked up fast rounds. Georgie Strang (GBR) was leading, having pipped Ireland’s Esib Power (the 2016 winner) by just 0.09sec, so Paul needed to deliver a fast clear to retain his title.
The 43-year-old did just that, shaving more than 4sec off the leading time to become the first back-to-back winner of the MS Amlin Eventers’ Challenge.
“I’ve had the last 12 months to prepare myself. I knew exactly how fast I went last year and I knew exactly how much faster I was going to go, and how many fewer strides or extra strides I was going to do between various fences. It was that calculated,” said Paul, who describes himself as a ‘semi-professional event rider’ who combines competing with his job for the Event Rider Masters series.
Asked how it felt to win at Hickstead for a second time, Paul said it was ‘great fun’.
“I enjoy the crowds, so to win in an Arena like Hickstead is my cup of tea. I’m a bit laid back so the more pressure the better, and the more atmosphere the better.”
Paul paid credit to Bonza King Of Rouges co-owners, Jenny Walller (the owner of Paul’s Badminton winner Inonothing) and Angela Scott, who was originally responsible for bringing Paul to the UK from Australia.
Runner-up Georgie Strang produced a super round with Cooley Earl, who was having his second attempt at the class.
“It felt amazing, I didn’t think I’d come second as there were some very quick rounds. I thought the only way I’d win it would be if Paul knocked one down.”
With twelve through to the jump-off, competition in The Bunn Leisure Trophy was fierce – but in the end it was Britain’s Robert Smith who took the title with Ilton.
“I knew they’d have to run to catch him. I kept everything very tight and he’s pretty quick across the ground,” said the Yorkshireman. “My aim for him is the King George. It’s a big ask but he’s got a chance.”
Guy Williams was the only rider to beat Robert for time with his horse Rouge De Ravel, but he lowered a rail to drop down the order, leaving Smith in the top spot.
Earlier this morning, Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jr won the Bunn Leisure Vase riding Falco Van De Clehoeve.
“He rarely doesn’t win a class at a show. He’s a real fighter,” he said. “I love coming to Hickstead; this show is like Wimbledon is for tennis.”
In the showing, the Walker family had a day to remember, when Robert won the Saracen Horse Feeds Supreme Hunter Championship with the lightweight victor View Point, while the heavyweight Patricks Choice took reserve with Robert’s wife Sarah in the saddle. Both horses are owned by Jill Day.
“He’s a class show horse – from day one when I broke him in you could just tell he had something a little bit special,” said Robert. “We’ve had some great times here. We won in the [Equi-Trek] Ring Five earlier today but he was twice the horse out there in the International Area – there’s something about the Hickstead main ring. They go out there and give their best.
“It’s not only great for us as a team, but it’s great for the owner and the girls who have had long days getting the horses all ready. These are the days that you thrive on. To win here it gives you a great buzz.”
The Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Great Britain at the BHS Royal International Horse Show takes place at the All England Jumping Course until Sunday 29 July, with tickets available online or at the gate. Tomorrow’s feature class is the €150,000 Longines BHS King George V Gold Cup, which will be shown live on Sky Sports and FEI TV.
For full results from the show, click here.