Timed to perfection – Clarke Johnstone takes the 2022 Loomes Championship at Rockingham

The wait for a ladies watch to be awarded in the Loomes Championship at the Fairfax & Favor Rockingham International Horse Trials continues, as Clarke Johnstone takes this year’s stunning, hand-crafted prize for New Zealand.

Clarke Johnstone and Menlo Park on their way to winning the Loomes Championship at Rockingham (image, Tim Wilkinson, Eventing Images)

As ever, the Loomes Championship delivered an absolutely thrilling end to three days of superb eventing in front of a huge crowd in Rockingham Castle’s Great Park. The Championship, which sees a highly sought-after Loomes watch awarded to the rider closest to the optimum time on the cross country across the Advanced Intermediate and Open Intermediate classes, first ran at Rockingham in 2014. There is yet to be a female winner of the title and there has been increasing interest over the years as to when this might happen and who the recipient will be.

Olympic Team Gold medallist and this year’s Badminton Champion, Laura Collett was many people’s favourite – and, sure enough, Laura delivered. One of the first riders to head out on the course, she stopped the clock bang on the optimum time with Dacapo. Anyone hoping to challenge Laura for the prize, would need to match this feat. It would then go down to who had the faster show jumping round.

Many riders came close – including the previous day’s CCI-S 3* winner, Piggy March, who crossed the line one just one second too soon – but for most of the day the watch appeared to be heading towards Laura’s wrist. By the time Clarke and Menlo Park took to the course, as the last combination to go, the crowd was gripped to see if Laura could hold on. The commentary team tracked Clarke’s progress around the course and delivered the news of that all-important time – spot on the optimum. After a tense pause whilst show jumping times were consulted, Clarke was announced as the 2022 winner.

Clarke Johnstone receives his Robert Loomes watch from Robert and Robina Loomes and event organisers, James and Lizzie Saunders Watson

“I’ve had an absolutely amazing day,” said Clarke. “I’m incredibly happy to have won this beautiful Robert Loomes watch, which is just perfect. When I set out on the cross country it was absolutely front of mind. I knew that nothing except bang on the optimum time was going to be good enough and when I heard that I was spot on, I was absolutely delighted.

“Menlo Park and I both travelled over from New Zealand in February, so we’ve been here for about three months now and he’s going extremely well. He’s a horse that I think a huge amount of. He’s very good in all three phases and he was just the right speed today, so I’m absolutely delighted.

“I first came to Rockingham in 2013 and thought what a fantastic event. So, some nine years later, I was really looking forward to coming back and riding around the beautiful grounds here. I feel very lucky to be able to ride at such a beautiful part of the world.”

Other highlights from Sunday included the first ever running of British Eventing’s Intermediate Masters, which the team at Rockingham were delighted to host. With incredibly generous prizes available to riders in the top ten, it was a hotly contested class, but no one could get close to Melissa Joannides and Patch Ali. The pair put in a commanding performance to lead from start to finish and earn Melissa the prestigious title of Rockingham Intermediate Master 2022.

“It was our first time coming to Rockingham and we loved it,” said Melissa. “It’s been a great event – really good atmosphere, good crowds and a nice flowing cross country course. We entered the Intermediate Masters after doing the Novice Masters with another horse last season and it has set us up nicely for the rest of the season with our plans to go up the levels again.”

As the sun set on a superb weekend of sport, everyone was delighted to have seen eventing back at Rockingham. “We are thrilled to have seen so many people here over the three days, enjoying the sport and having fun with family and friends,” concluded event organiser, Lizzie Saunders Watson. “

“We calculated that more than 512 days of volunteer time have been given to help deliver the Horse Trials this year – that is an incredible amount of time. We are hugely grateful to everyone who contributed and it’s lovely to see the team’s efforts rewarded with such a fabulous competition.”

Full results available here.

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