Belgium’s Francois Mathy Jr. (BEL) staved off a powerful British challenge to win the opening international class of Horse of the Year Show at the NEC Genting Arena in Birmingham. François, riding 13-year-old gelding Falco van de Clehoeve, posted a time of 54.23 seconds in the Grandstand Welcome Stakes – a one round speed class that produced some thrilling rounds – to take the £3,300 top prize.
Britain’s Guy Williams (GBR) and Thais D’La Verrerie went closest to knocking François out of top spot in the Andrews Bowen International Arena, but despite a concerted effort to attack the leader’s time, they finished just outside in 54.68 seconds.
Yorkshire-based Paul Barker, meanwhile, took third on Happy Boy after setting the early pace in 55.70 seconds, while François’ fellow countryman Belgian Karel Cox (BEL) was fourth with Kill Bill Max. The quickest time among 26 starters was posted by Matt Sampson (GBR), who clocked a rapid 51.94 seconds aboard Doriena, but they had the penultimate fence down to dash victory hopes.
François, a prolific winner on the European and British circuits, said: “I am very happy. It is the nicest way to start the show for us, and it will be even better if we can finish it the same way. He is a naturally very quick horse, but Guy was very fast also, and it was really close between us. I am competitive, and when we come to these kind of shows it is to try and do well.”
Horse of the Year Show celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, and Francois added: “I love coming here. I have been to this show many times – it has always been an important one for me – and I really love it. There is so much tradition, which is what I love about it.”
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Photo: © First Class Images
Categories: CSI 3*