Banbridge’s Emma McEntee rocked Balmoral main arena when she claimed the prestigious Red Mills International Spectacular in her first ever international attempt.
Not only did she impress the spectators, she also had the attention of Ireland’s’ High Performance Manager and Olympic chef d’equipe Michael Blake, who was there on a mission to check out Ireland’s up and coming combinations.
The Connolly’s Red Mills Spectacular had a challenging track for the 27 riders with a second round time allowed of 63 seconds with five riders, including Fintona’s Jenny Rankin, Deirdre Reilly and Greg Broderick, all on form with first class opening clears.
“This has been an amazing result for me,” said McEntee.
“This is my first ever win at this level and to take the Red Mills from such a fantastic start list with top Olympians and Nations Cup riders makes me very proud.
“I had a good opening round with TFM Blue. We won a good Grand Prix at the Meadows, Lurgan recently and I never in my dreams thought I would have such a huge win at Balmoral. It is a dream come true.”
Scotsman James Smith, who finished second with the grey gelding Good Friends by the French sire My Lord Carthago, said: “I have had an amazing day. First I won the morning speed challenge and now I have taken runner-up in this event behind Emma.
“It was a great class and big track with tight times. I always love coming to Balmoral Show and will have another go in the Friday Grand Prix.”
Third-placed Rankin has been on tour with excellent results in Europe this year and was competing on Lajaardens Cannavero, a bay stallion owned by the world’s number five ranked rider Conor Swail.
Rankin, who is based in Malahide with the Barry O’Connor stables, was delighted.
“The stallion is fantastic, Conor gives me really good horses to ride and Cannavaro is special,” she said.
Irish supremo Blake was scrutinising the class and riders as he has to assess teams for some 20 Nations Cups this year.
“Balmoral is a great show to see how riders and horses go on a grass arena,” he explained.
“Ireland won the Nations Cups this year in Wellington, Florida, Vilamoura, Abu Dhabi and came second in Barcelona. There is nothing better than a Nations Cup with two rounds over big tracks and two water jumps to assess for major championships.
“The Balmoral Grand Prix will be important to check the form and our Nations Cup team for Windsor this weekend includes riders Thomas Ryan, David Simpson, Trevor Breen and Alex Butler with Hannah O’Shea as reserve.”
Earlier, Smith and Annabel Shields meant business in the Rydale International Speed Challenge, over a tough and galloping track which saw four seconds added to the time for a knockdown.
The 1.35m course using the full size grass arena proved positive for Ireland’s Daniel McAlinden who opened on a fast clear with AHG Whiterock Doctor Cruise, a bay gelding owned by Luisa Horte setting the pace with a clear in 61.45.
McEntee was next to produce a foot perfect round on Boss Quality, owned by Harold and Kenny Lusk of Knockaney, with their former event horse which last year was only jumping 1m 10m. McEntee, who has had amazing results with the Obos Quality/Clover Fields flashy gelding, always rides to win and produced another fast clear in 64.72.
Edward Doyle with Renkum A Toast were slower in 76.44 as was Deirdre Reilly on Finnegan in 98.53, while Louise Saywell produced a speedy clear in 63.70.
Slower rounds made for boring spectator viewing, but James Smith’s winning time of 59.99, with Annabel Shields second in 60.08 and McAlinden’s third placed 61.45 were closely followed by Thurles rider Kevin Gallagher on Arcadia LVS on 62.35 and consistent challenger Louise Saywell (GB) on 63.70 with Sharp Image.
Newly-elected Show president Christine Adams was delighted with the international arena classes.
“I am very pleased to see the high standard of showjumping, all the riders have been complimentary on the luxurious huge grass arena and good footing,” she said.
"It makes us feel proud that Balmoral has such a good standing in the sport.”
Vice President of the Show, Diane Gibson from Templepatrick, not only competed in a hunter class, she also officiated on the main arena.
“The younger riders are showing their talent in the international classes and we see the new stars of the future,” she said. “Having leading national hunt trainer Willie Mullins here with leading jockey Richard Johnson to judge the racehorse to riding horse class is a real boost to the industry.”
Mullins said: “It’s great to be here, I am honoured to judge the the racehorse class. I am looking for a relaxed horse and one which has adapted as a riding horse and not a racing horse. The music and loudspeakers are a distraction so they must obey their rider and adapt. I don’t envy Richard Johnson’s job of riding them. The ground is good and the horses will be fast.”
Olympian Cian O’Connor, who brought his new stallion Taj Mahal to his first Balmoral for owner Susan Magnier of Coolmore, reflected: “The show is amazing. Taj Mahal is my big horse for next year, we are not trying to win classes but he has been exceptional this week.”
Thursday results, The Rydale International Speed Challenge: 1 James Smith GB Simply Splendid 59.99; 2 Annabel Shields GB Carnoneybridge Challenger 60.08; 3 Daniel McAlinden IRE AHG Whiterock Doctor Cruise, 61.45; 4 Kevin Gallagher, IRE Arcadia 62.35; 5 Louise Saywell GB Sharp Image 63.70; 6 Emma McEntee IRE Boss Quality 64.72; 7 Emily Turkington IRE Jay Gatsby 65.46.
The Connolly’s Red Mill 1.45m International Spectacular: 1 Emma McEntee IRE TJM Blue 0-0 49.00; 2 James Smith GB Good Friends, 0-0 50.84; 3 Jenny Rankin IRE Lajgaardens Cannavaro 0-0 52.09; 4 Deirdre Reilly IRE Kafka VD Heffinck 0-0 57.03; 5 Greg Broderick IRE Aconzina 0-4 52.94.
Friday schedule, Main Arena: 8.30am Balmoral Star of the Future Performance; 11.30am SJ8 The International Accumulator. 1.45pm SJ9 The International Bottlegreen Horsesport Ireland Grand Prix.