It was certainly a "tears for joy" Horse of the Year Show as Briar Burnett-Grant powered to Olympic Cup victory in Hastings today.
Burnett-Grant became the youngest rider in the history of the marquee showjumping event of the Land Rover-sponsored show to etch her name on the Mrs RS Fullerton-Smith donated silverware since Peter Holden rode Starlight to victory in the inaugural jump in 1953.
The 17-year-old from Taupo slapped her mount, Fiber Fresh Veroana, on the neck and exploded into wild cowgirl-like yee-hah celebration after beating Australian rivals Clint Beresford and Emmaville Jitterbug in a two-way jump after two clear rounds at the Tomoana Showgrounds.
The fans erupted in approval, according Burnett-Grant a standing ovation on the main grandstand of the premier arena after Beresford had also registered a clear round all the way to the jump off.
Burnett-Grant told the crowd it hadn't been her best week and she was in two minds to even compete today.
"I didn't want to bugger it up ... so everything just paid off today," she said to wild applause of an appreciative audience but one perhaps also relieved it wasn't going to be an "Oi! Oi! Oi!" moment again after the Aussies had walloped the Kiwis in the Silver Ferns Stakes transtasman test on Friday night.
Burnett-Grant acknowledged Beresford's spotless two rounds and jump off, revealing she had adopted a mindset of just going out in her jump-off to stay on the straight and narrow.
The jubilant teenager thanked her parents, siblings, the Morrison family, sponsors and former Australian Olympian and ex-New Zealand high-performance coach Jeff McVean for his tutelage from her childhood days.
It was a gut-wrenching moment, for the 25-year-old from Canberra had nervously watched from near the horse-shoe entrance as the champion posted a scorching time of 45.79s to eclipse his 46.92s on the Werner Deeg-designed 1.60m course that lured a field of 24. It was whittled down to 10 for the second round before the pair were left standing for the jump-off.
"Unfortunately I was just a little bit slower but Briar thoroughly deserved it because she rode really well," said Beresford who was gnawing at his fingernails as Burnett-Grant had some heart-palpitating moments as her 9-year-old gelding brushed a couple of rails but, it seems, the equestrian gods were on her side today.
"You've got to live on the edge of your seat sometimes in a jump-off and it all comes down to the last second and last chance," he said.
Beresford labelled the HOY Show "unreal", enjoying it from day one and felt the horses got "better and better" right through to today.
He said he couldn't have asked any more from Emmaville Jitterbug. He thanked all his sponsors and his legion of supporters at home.
The Aussie said he would definitely return next year.
Beresford had made the course look easy with the first clear round before Burnett-Grant emulated his feat but only after South Islander Tegan Fitzsimon (Double J Monarch), Aussies Brooke Langbecker (Quintago) and Stuart Jenkins (Fairview Aliquidam) had picked a four-fault each.
Defending champion Lily Tootill (Ulysses NZPH) also registered a clear round. Ultramox Lady Rider of the Year Lisa Cubitt (Matawai Sentana) on Thursday, Fraser Tombleson (Mea I), 2018 Norwood Gold Cup champion Tom Tarver-Priebe (Popeye) and HOY Show queen Katie Laurie (On The Point Sandy) all lost a rail as 10 of them progressed through to the next round.
An Aussie victory looked ominous when Langbecker and Jenkins jumped clear but Beresford and Burnett-Grant negated their progress with another blemish-free jump each.
Jenkins and Langbecker finished third equal. Cubitt, Tarver-Priebe and Tootill were fifth equal while Fitzsimon and Laurie were eighth equal.