Harrie Smolders took up riding at a young age by accident when his sister turned out to be too big for the pony their father got for her.
The accidental show jumper has since ditched the pony for feisty mare Regina Z who on Saturday night soared high to allow the flying Dutchman to reign supreme on the second night of the Longines Hong Kong Masters.
Smolders, 33, warded off stiff competition from a strong field to win the US$100,000 Hong Kong Jockey Club Trophy and lay down a challenge to the strong French contingent at Asia's only five-star international equestrian event, spelling out that they won't have it easy when the competition reaches its climax on Sunday with the US$700,000 Grand Prix at AsiaWorld-Expo.
Smolders pumped his fist in joy when last rider Patrice Delaveau of France failed to match his time of 39.99 seconds in the winning round - the jump-off after 15 riders had clear rounds in the first round - leaving him in possession of the winner's purse of US$33,000.
"I was worried for a bit as there were a couple of riders who came close. But I am very happy to win and I hope I can carry this form on for tomorrow," said Smolders.
Delaveau had won this event, one of the four (including the Grand Prix) he dominated in the inaugural competition last year. But what a difference a year can make as the Frenchman is winless after the opening two days and will be pinning his hopes on retaining the big prize this afternoon.
Unlike his imperious reign last year, this year the spoils have been divided with Saturday afternoon's Prix EuroAsia being won by Swiss Martin Fuchs. With the opening day's events being won by Frenchmen Kevin Staut (the Speed Challenge) and Julien Epaillard (Hong Kong M-Mark Trophy), it is anyone's guess as to who will ride away with the top prize on Sunday.
"The competition is tough. As we suspected, no one would dominate like Patrice did last year," said Staut before the event began. And his words ring true.
As VIPs dined on lobster flown down from Maine and drank champagne, Smolders laid down the challenge early in the winning round with his blistering time. The 14 other riders who had completed the first round error-free, could find no answer.