In a truly entertaining conclusion to the third day of competition at CSIO Rome Piazza di Siena 2023, British legend John Whitaker and Italian star Emilio Bicocchi shared the honours in this evening’s Loro Piana Six-Bar challenge.
From the outset this was no walk-in-the-park, with the final fence already standing at 1.60m in the first round and raised significantly in every subsequent round.
By the time it came to the third jump-off with four big fences still to be tackled there were just three left to battle it out over a massive 1.95m, and Bicocchi produced another stunning performance from the 13-year-old stallion Flinton who still didn’t look under any great pressure.
The last fence came down for Switzerland’s Alain Jufer and Kosimo MM but, last into the ring, John Whitaker crossed the line with a big smile when his 13-year-old horse Green Grass soared over the the colossal final pole without flinching.
It might have come down to a two-way face-off between Italy and Great Britain over a new height of 2.05m, but the two riders wisely decided to share the win instead, more than happy with the performances they had produced from their brave steeds.
A great heart
“Flinton has been with me for more than four years and he has a great heart!” said 46-year-old Bicocchi who has represented Italy in two World Championships during his successful career. “This was his first Six Bar - we thought we would try to see what he could do and we made the right decision”, added the Tuscan rider who tonight posted his ninth win for at CSIO Rome Piazza di Siena.
John Whitaker’s horse was also a Six Bar first-timer. “He’s normally ridden by Paul Barker who bred him, I just borrow him sometimes!”, said the Yorkshireman. Paul Barker is son of David Barker who competed for Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.
He was really pleased with how Green Grass rose to the occasion tonight - literally.
“He’s really brave, he just took it on! It’s his first Six-Bar and he’s never jumped anything near that height! Paul jumps him in national 1.45m or 1.50m classes and he’s competitive. I just jumped him for experience in the first two rounds and he felt so good the third time I thought I’d go again. He’s very game!” said the 67-year-old Briton who is himself a true legend in the sport.
Admired all around the world he had the crowd right behind him tonight. Asked what it felt like to be called “Il grande (the great) John Whitaker” every times he comes into the ring at Piazza di Siena he smiled and said “it’s actually very nice, I like it!”
Ph. John Whitaker and Emilio Bicocchi - © Sport e Salute/Simone Ferraro