A tricky first round saw just four riders go clear, with James lining up alongside three lady riders – the class used to be an international class open to women only but changed in 2008 to become a national class that both men and women could enter.
Event rider Pippa Funnell was the first to go in the jump-off with her husband William’s former ride Billy Congo. A clear in a time of 54.34sec put pressure on her rivals, before second to go Alison Barton had her hopes dashed when Roma IV picked up four faults. James and Glenavadra Brilliant were next, and he managed to use the horse’s long stride to cross the finish on 52.97sec to take the lead. The last to go was Helen Tredwell and the grey Larksong, and while they were more than 2sec faster, the final fence fell to cost them the win.
James, the son of Ian Whitaker and the nephew of legendary showjumpers John and Michael, celebrated his 21st birthday on Monday, so today he also picked up the Cindy Mead Memorial Trophy for the best placed rider under 25. He took over the ride on Glenavadra Brilliant from his elder brother William, who won the Hickstead Derby with the horse in 2016. James and Glenavadra Brilliant had a good result in their Al Shira’aa Derby debut last month, finishing fifth, but this was their first international win at Hickstead.
“He loves big grass arenas like this, and he always seems to perform well here,” said James. “When I saw Pippa go I thought there’s no way I’m going to beat that! It’s unreal – a dream come true. Winning a class like this was definitely on the bucket list.”
His brother William Whitaker came very close to winning the final class of the day, the British Speed Classic, but in the end he was relegated into second by Ireland’s Shane Breen and Can Ya Makan.
The pair came third in last month’s Al Shira’aa Derby and won the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial.
“A speed class like this inspires him and keeps him keen,” said Shane. “I don’t use him as a speed horse as such – he jumps Derbies, Grands Prix, teams – I love him because he’s so versatile. He’s a very good horse to have in the stable. Next year I think he’s got a great chance in the Al Shira’aa Derby and in the King George – he’s so useful.”
It was incredibly tight in this morning’s Bunn Leisure Salver, with just 0.65sec dividing the top three. The USA’s Laura Kraut (Nouvelle) was the fastest of all in 37.11sec, with Belgium’s Wilm Vermier (DM Jacqmotte) in second and Brazil’s Marlon Modolo Zanotelli (Isabeau De Laubry) third.
“I saw Marlon go and he’s one of the fastest riders in the world. He was so smooth and I thought I just can’t hold back,” said Laura, the partner of Olympic gold medallist Nick Skelton. “Nouvelle is just wonderful – I’ve had her for about eight years and she’s just always been riddled with bizarre injuries so she’s actually fairly low mileage.”
In the showing classes, Jayne Ross claimed the Brereton Supreme Hack honours with Forceland Hyde Park, while the David Stennett Ltd Small Hunter winner was Ellie Stunt and Banview Scirocco.
The Osborne Refrigerators Double Harness Scurry Championship went to Gareth Roberts with his pair of ponies, Dark Horse Fred and Barney.
The show concludes tomorrow with the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Great Britain, a historic team competition in which teams of four riders compete over two showjumping rounds. Britain hasn’t won on home turf since 2010, but are hopeful of a good performance with a strong team comprising Scott Brash (Hello Shelby), Amanda Derbyshire (Luibanta BH), Holly Smith (Hearts Destiny) and William Whitaker (Utamaro d’Ecaussines).
British chef d’equipe Di Lampard said she was ’very happy’ after the Brits were drawn sixth out of the seven teams to go.
“I’ve been very much looking forward to coming here and I think I’ve got a very good team,” said Di.
The Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Great Britain will be shown live on Sky Sports Action and FEI TV from 2pm.
For full results, click here.