There are wins in every athlete’s career that will stand out forever, and Harry Charles recorded one of those when topping the sixth leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2021/2022 Western European League on home ground in London (GBR) on Dec. 19, with a little help from Stardust.
In an edge-of-the-seat 11-horse jump-off against the clock the 22-year-old rider and the 11-year-old mare produced an extraordinary round that proved just too good for the rest, pinning The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders and Monaco into runner-up spot while British legend, John Whitaker, finished third with Unick du Francport.
You couldn’t have scripted it better for the home crowd who were treated to a feast of fabulous sport from start to finish.
“This is a bucket-list thing, I’ve grown up watching this show every year and it’s been one of my dreams to win the World Cup in London!” said Charles this evening.
Brazilian course designer, Guilherme Jorge, set them a first-round track that tested control at every turn. The short distance inside the double at fence eight was highly influential and, with both elements still in place for the jump-off, it continued to play a significant role.
Irish 26-year-old, Michael G Duffy, produced the first clear when third to go against the clock with Lapuccino in a time of 39.38, but Norwegian veteran, 61-year-old Geir Gulliksen, shaved almost a second off that to temporarily take the lead with the plucky little 15-year-old VDL Groep Quatro when fifth into the ring.
Then British hero, 66-year-old John Whitaker who was crowned series champion twice in a row with the great Milton a full 30 years ago, brought the crowd to their feet when galloping through the timers to go out in front with Unick du Francport who broke the beam in 37.50 seconds. His advantage was short-lived however.
Clearly meaning business from the outset, The Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders survived a very tricky moment at the first fence when, taking it an angle, his 12-year-gelding Monaco put in a really awkward jump. But the pair still scorched through the finish in the quickest time so far when stopping the timers in 36.77 seconds and when Olympic champion, Britain’s Ben Maher, was almost two seconds slower with Faltic HB who slipped on the turn to fence eight then the Dutchman was still out in front.
Third-last to go however Charles was oblivious to what was going on in the ring. He had his own plan and he was going to stick to it. And setting off in a perfect rhythm his mare met every fence on a perfect stride, seemingly never turning a hair before racing through the finish in 35.91 seconds to shoot to the top of the leaderboard. The crowd jumped to their feet again, celebrating a magical moment with their new young star whose smile was as wide as an ocean as he left the arena.
And when Swiss star Martin Fuchs’ Connor Jei clipped the first element at fence eight and then, last to go, fellow-Briton Matthew Sampson had a stop with Geneve R at the third from home it was a done deal.
While Charles admitted afterwards that he knew he’d really thrown it down to the last two, he was concerned that Fuchs might beat him. Hardly surprising considering the form the super-successful 29-year-old Swiss rider has enjoyed this year alone, when taking European team gold and individual silver along with multiple 5* victories.
“I knew Martin was on absolute fire here, he won three classes this week and I was bit worried about him. But I know my own horse is so quick. Harrie’s horse is also quick and I had beaten him so I was secretly confident, but I couldn’t be sure until the very end!” Charles said.
Asked afterwards if he had consulted with his father Peter, team gold medallist at the London 2012 Olympic Games and co-owner of Stardust along with former FEI President Princess Haya bint Al-Hussein, before going into the jump-off today, Charles said his father told him not to get “caught up on numbers”.
“I chose to not watch anyone and he said OK, I trust you so good luck, you can do it – they were his last words before I went in and won it!” he said. So how did Peter respond when he won?
“He was over the moon, I didn’t see too much of him, he got caught up in all the excitement so I don’t know if he shed a tear or was having a beer, but it means so much to him and to all of us as a family!” said the delighted young winner.
He described his winning mare, Stardust, as “incredible, she’s making her way to the No. 1 spot on my team. She only stepped up to this level in the last two months, she only did her first 5* Grand Prix at Madrid World Cup which was not so long ago (three weeks ago). Her mentality – she is absolutely everything I want in a horse and she’s a real yard favourite. She has so much blood, she’s so careful and she’s a natural winner.
“We’ve built up a great partnership, I think the world of her and when we get to the Finals I think she’ll be the horse I’ll use. I think I’ve got enough points now!” said the ambitious young man who has had, as he added, “an incredible year”, amongst the highlights of which has been competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and leading the British team to victory in the Challenge Cup at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ 2021 Final in Barcelona (ESP) in October.
“It’s been a helluva year, so much cool stuff has happened, I’ve had so many great opportunities and to come here and finish out the year doing something like this – my first 5* Grand Prix World Cup win – I couldn’t ask for better than that!” he happily concluded.
With 38 points racked up Charles has shot up to second spot on the league leaderboard which continues to be led by Ireland’s Denis Lynch. The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2022 Final will take place in Leipzig, Germany in April and for athletes in the Western European League the next stop in the 10-leg qualifying series is Basel, Switzerland on 16 January.