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news Looney Les is on best behaviour to win Blenheim dressage championship

20th September 2022
RoR Elementary winners, Rhian Smith & Sneaking Budge, images courtesy of 1st Class Images
  • Southern Dressage Championship winners shine in front of the palace

With its spectacular setting in front of Blenheim Palace, the RoR Southern Dressage Championships attracted over 100 former racehorses to compete over two days of competition.

Held as part of the Blenheim International Horse Trials, the event provided an opportunity for the public to watch at first-hand the adaptability of thoroughbreds excelling in a second career. There was also a dressage demonstration on both days, led by Louise Robson from Thoroughbred Dressage and which included former star steeplechaser, the recently retired Cyrname.

Competition wise there were classes at Prelim, Novice, Elementary and Medium levels and the event is one of four regional qualifiers for the RoR National Dressage Championships held annually in August at Aintree.

The winner of the Medium Championship was Gemma Haworth and her 14-year-old gelding, Looney Les. A racing career that began in a six furlong maiden at Windsor and concluded four years later in a maiden point-to-point tells its own story in terms of the lack of success Looney Les enjoyed as a racehorse. However, eight years after retiring from an undistinguished racing career he won the highest prize on offer at the RoR Southern Dressage Championships.

Looney Les’s rider, Gemma Haworth said: “I originally purchased him to sell on, however, three years on, it’s safe to say he’s not going anywhere! The plan is to keep moving up the levels to Advanced Medium.”

Second place in the Medium went to Red Inferno and Hayley Ward and Que Sera and Jo Hales came third.

In the Elementary class, victory went to Rhian Smith and the 10-year-old Sneaking Budge. Having only retired from racing in April 2018 his rise through the ranks and levels of dressage has been rapid.

A strongly contested Novice Championship was won by Harriet Colderick and Watergate Bay, who were also runners up in the Elementary class. Now a 16-year-old, Watergate Bay has competed up to 3* level eventing and was crowned RoR Elite Eventing Champion in 2018.

Finishing in second in the Novice was Debbie Squires aboard the 9-year-old mare Malachys Girl who only retired from racing in March 2021. The pair had earlier in the day tasted victory in the RoR showing classes.

The combination of Steph Cameron and The Cotswold Grey won the Prelim Championship. The 15-year-old gelding by Great Palm ran just twice, finishing down the field in two National Hunt Flat races when trained by Graeme McPherson before being retired from racing in 2012.

A tearful Steph Cameron said: ‘I’ve owned this horse for ten years and he hasn’t been the most straightforward but when he’s right, he’s right. It’s just the most rewarding feeling. ‘

Runner-up in the Prelim class was Laura Taylor and Reality Bites and in third place was Jess Hooley and Blue Battalion.

Di Arbuthnot, RoR Chief Executive, said: “It’s a fantastic event and enables former racehorses to compete on a prestigious stage in a wonderful setting. The level of the horses just keeps improving.”

On the Sunday in the main arena there was a RoR Parade showcasing the diverse disciplines former racehorses adapt to in their second career, including being ridden side-saddle and playing horseball. The parade featured Cheltenham Festival winners Coneygree, Call The Cops and Zarkandar, along with Group 1 flat winner Side Glance.


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