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‘I finally got it!’: Brit celebrates first Royal Windsor 5* win after missing out by hundredths of a second twice

Matt Sampson and MGH Candy Girl win the Defender Challenge Stakes at Royal Windsor Horse Show 2024
Matthew Sampson (GBR) riding Mgh Candy Girl in the CSI5* The Defender Challenge Stakes during the Royal Windsor Horse Show

MATT Sampson had more than earned a victory lap of Royal Windsor Horse Show’s Castle Arena after coming second for two consecutive years in the show’s opening 1.45m speed class with the electric 15.2hh mare MGH Candy Girl.

After taking runner up to Victor Bettendorf by less than 1sec on his debut in the 5* here last year, history repeated itself for Matt and Candy when the combination came second to Shane Breen (Cato Boy) this time by an agonising 0.03sec margin.

But on Saturday morning they flipped their luck around to snatch a 0.04sec advantage from Laura Kraut (Calgary Tame) in a dramatic 1.50m jump off class, the CSI5* Defender Challenge Stakes.

“It was amazing to win. On my first year here I was second in one class with Candy and I was second in the same class again yesterday, so I finally got it!” said Matt, who has been riding Isabel Fox’s 11-year-old mare since taking over the ride from Gemma Stevens, who produced her, at the end of 2022.

“Yesterday I was 0.03sec off winning today I won by 0.04sec, so I suppose it works it’s way round!”

Riders fall foul of the clock

Under this class’s format, the top 10 of 28 starters make it through to the jump off and in some instances time proved more critical than rails, especially for Britain’s Sam Hutton (Desiree Dr Z), who jumped clear but didn’t make the cut after clocking five time penalties.

The eventual line up included two riders with time faults and four on four faults, with all penalties carried through to the second phase. Only four had clean sheets — Matt, Laura, Ben Maher with Enjeu De Grisien, who withdrew before the jump off, and Harrie Smolders, who earned final draw against the clock with the fastest first round clear on the brilliantly consistent Monaco N.O.P.

Harry Charles, carrying four faults through, set a bold lead from first to go after storming the long gallop to the final black vertical on his rising star, nine-year-old Bandit. It was another six riders before he was toppled from the top spot by Austrian Max Kuhner (Eic Julius Caesar), who jumped a strategic safe round to go in front on his one first round time penalty.

But the clears had the advantage, and knowing there were quick riders behind her, Laura Kraut delivered a classy performance on the 12-year-old chestnut gelding to set a brilliant lead.

‘She’s really fast but she is very small’

Matt certainly had the crowd biting their fingernails, as he scooted round on the little mare, flying boldly towards the last before briefly doubting his distance with a “woah” but still landing clean with 0.04sec in hand.

Last in Harrie had the advantage of stride and scope but perhaps with later classes, or the rest of a critical season, in mind, opted for a smooth round to finish almost 5sec slower.

“Going in, I just felt like I was against the clears, so my plan was to see what Laura did and she had an amazing round. I had to try my best to be faster and luckily I was just a little bit ahead,” Matt said.

“Candy is so careful and really fast but she is very small, so sometimes the strides that the other riders get I don’t manage to with her length of stride, but she’s fast enough that I can make up for it.

“I saw Harry [Charles] did eight big strides to the last and it walked 10. When I saw Laura do it, it looked like it got a bit long for her and I know her horse does have quite a decent stride so I thought it was going to be a bit longer for me than what it was but Candy really covered the ground. I had to shout ‘woah’ at the end to slow her down a little bit!”

Matt has two horses at the show and plans to contest Sunday’s Rolex grand prix with James Davenport and Angelie Von Essen’s stallion Daniel.

You may also like to read…

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