Ireland's Shane Breen creates history with victory at Hickstead
Shane Breen created a piece of Hickstead history today when he won the prestigious Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
The Irish Nations Cup star guided his nine-year-old mare Zarnita to a thilling victory as he edged out Great Britain's Robert Whitaker and Asterix E Z by 0.61 seconds.
In doing so, Breen became the first male rider to win the trophy twice since its inception 64 years ago. He was also the first to claim two victories on separate horses for 20 years.
The class was not thrown open to male competitors until 2008, when 38-year-old Breen triumphed aboard Carmena Z.
He will now set his sights on tomorrow's Longines Royal International Horse Show finale - the King George V Gold Cup - when Breen, riding Cos I Can, can now target a unique double.
"It is great to win any class at Hickstead, but I am particularly delighted to win with this horse as the owner Sarah-Jane Knight is only based 10 minutes up the road from here," said an in-form Breen, who jumped two clear rounds in yesterday's FEI Nations Cup.
"Last year, when I won the Old Lodge breeding competition with Zarnita, we said it would be nice to come back and win the Queen Elizabeth Cup and we've done it."
Five combinations from a 27-strong field made the jump-off and Breen had it all to do as last to go.
Whitaker set a scorching pace, clocking 49.76secs, but Hickstead-based Breen timed his challenge superbly, edging just inside the Yorkshireman's time.
Young British prospect Louise Saywell was third aboard Hello Winner IV, William Funnell (Billy Balou) fourth and Joe Clayton fifth, riding the Michael Whitaker-owned Aiyetoro.
"I wasn't sure that we could be three seconds quicker than William, which is what we needed to be. But after I jumped the second last fence, I had a good shot at the planks to finish and we just went for it," Breen said.
"The horse loves the big arenas and has loads of scope. She only started jumping when she was six, but don't be surprised if you see her jumping a Nations Cup or a grand prix next year.
"She is a peculiar kind of mare in that she rides around bigger courses better than she does the smaller ones.
"I jumped her in a 1.35 metre class the other day and it seemed quite hard, but she jumped today's course quite easily. The big scopey jumpers like a bit of a challenge."
The water jump proved the most problematic around a course that claimed an early faller in Sian Edwards and saw both Paul Crago and Simon Crippen retire. More than half the remaining 24 combinations had eight faults or more.
"The course builder was quite clever in the distance he presented," Breen said. "It was quite a big oxer fence before the water, so you needed to have your revs up at that point."
The day's opening class - The Bunn Leisure Salver - saw Swiss Nations Cup rider Werner Muff take top spot following an 11-horse jump off.
Muff's time of 39.29secs on Never Last proved the only sub-40 second time, with German Hans-Dieter Dreher finishing second on Colore and Britain's John Whitaker and Maximillian securing third place.