Michael Whitaker Named Winner of €100,000 Olympia Grand Prix Amid Controversial Disqualification of Bertram Allen

Ph. JessicaRodrigues/NoelleFloyd.com

Great Britain’s Michael Whitaker was named the winner of the €100,000 Olympia Grand Prix CSI5* on Monday evening in London amid a rising furor surrounding the disqualification of Ireland’s Bertram Allen.

The class, which is the finale competition to the famed London Olympia International Horse Show CSI5* and always plays out in front of a packed house close to the center of London, saw 15 riders qualify for the jumpoff after completing a super Round 1 track built by course designer Bernardo Costa Cabral.

Eight pairs jumped double clear, including Allen aboard Quiet Easy, an 11-year-old chestnut Oldenburg gelding (Quidam’s Rubin x Zapateado) owned by Quainton Stud. Allen and Quiet Easy laid down a blistering jumpoff round to top the leaderboard as they left the ring.

Allen and Quiet Easy on course. Ph. Jessica Rodrigues/NoelleFloyd.com
Allen and Quiet Easy on course. Ph. Jessica Rodrigues/NoelleFloyd.com

After passing through the mandatory boot and bit check administered by FEI stewards at the ingate, Allen moved on to the warmup ring to await the end of the class. Whitaker was last to go and tried to beat Allen’s time with a double clear round of his own, but finished two seconds slower than Allen in 32.05 seconds.

It wasn’t until Allen was already back on his horse awaiting the start of the prizegiving that it was announced he had been disqualified from the competition due to blood found on the horse’s side.

FEI Jumping Rules Article 242.3.1 calls for mandatory disqualification if a horse is found to be bleeding anywhere on the flanks or in the mouth or nose indicating excessive use or spurs or the whip. Read the official statement on the decision from Olympia Horse Show at this link.

As Allen and his team steadfastly maintained that no excessive use of the spur had been used (Allen did not carry a whip in the class), they immediately appealed the decision. However, the Appeal Committee ruled to uphold the decision of the Ground Jury, moving Whitaker and Viking, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Jacomar x Almox Prints) up to 1st place and Allen down to the bottom of the results list. Ludger Beerbaum and Chiara would finish 2nd, with fellow German Marcus Ehning in 3rd aboard Gin Chin van het Lindenhof.

Having left London late Monday night, Allen was already back at home in Ireland on Tuesday morning when we spoke to him. The well-liked and widely respected young rider will spend the Christmas holiday with his family, but he was not taking his holiday early, as he was already out in the stables working with his young horses after catching a few hours of sleep the night before.

“The first I heard about it was when [Assistant Steward Frances Hesketh-Jones] looked at his side (in the boot check) and she smudged the little bit of blood with her glove, maybe one or two centimeters,” Allen explained about the events of the evening. “It was smudged because he was sweating. She took a pic of it then, wiped it once and it never bled again.”

Instead of pulling Allen and the horse into the vet box for further examination, he and his horse were allowed to go back to the stabling. In the meantime, Hesketh-Jones called Foreign Judge Stephen Ellenbrook down from the jury box to discuss the finding. Ellenbrook went to the stable and examined the horse, and upon his return to the jury box the result of the class was changed. At that time, Allen had already proceeded back to the warmup arena to prepare for the prizegiving. When the disqualification was made public, Whitaker somewhat reluctantly accepted the winner’s cooler onto his horse.

Whitaker in the prizegiving. Ph. JessicaRodrigues/NoelleFloyd.com
Whitaker in the prizegiving. Ph. JessicaRodrigues/NoelleFloyd.com

In a show of absolute sportsmanship and class, Whitaker handed Allen his winner’s rosette, and spoke up in support of Allen, whom he called “the real winner of the class.”

“Maybe I let my leg maybe slip, but the mark, it wasn’t even where my foot is. I think the FEI made the wrong decision. There has to be some sort of common sense used – things happen. Horses and riders are competitive, and it’s not easy to do this at this level,” Allen explained. “It’s a fairly hands on sport so there can be that little nick that can happen, but you can be absolutely 100% sure that the horse doesn’t even know that he has it. He’s happy enough, back home and fresh today.”

Allen partnered with Quiet Easy at the beginning of 2015 and quickly developed a winning partnership with the gelding. Known as one of the lightest and most naturally talented riders in the sport, Allen was a winner with Quiet Easy in no less than half a dozen CSI rated competitions since May, including the CSI5* at Madrid, Valkenswaard and Los Angeles.

“The last thing you want is to get something like this on your record or to get a dot beside your name, but I don’t think there was any harm done,” Allen continued. “Everyone was behind me, even all the riders. It fantastic really, that support. I’m really humbled by all the support that went around on social media – it went wild.”

Quiet Easy's right flank, where the mark in question is located.
Quiet Easy’s right flank, where the mark in question is located.

Photos of the mark in question circulated widely on social media as many international riders took to Facebook to publicly voice their support of Allen, and call into question the application of the blood rule by FEI stewards.

Allen and his team have not confirmed if they’ll appeal the disqualification further, or allow the decision to stand.

In a highly unusual and separate incident on the same day at Olympia, rider Victoria Gulikson was disqualified after competing in the Six Bar and finishing as joint winner. It was found after the fact that her entry wasn’t accepted due to her invitation to the Puissance, rather than the Six Bar, being incorrectly processed. She completed winner’s interviews and entered the ring with her winner’s rug before the decision of her disqualification was announced.

You can view full results of the €100,000 Olympia Grand Prix CSI5* at this link.

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