By HARRY CLARKE
CELEBRITY star power, bona fide royalty and luxury brand sponsorships continue to make the Magic Millions Polo & Show Jumping one of the Gold Coast’s fanciest social affairs, but increasingly the event is being recognised as an important marketeer of equestrian sports and a showcase of thoroughbred horses’ lives after racing.
Olympian Zara Tindall MBE, niece of King Charles, saddled up alongside Spanish model Elsa Pataky and Queensland legend Billy Slater for the star-studded and sold out Glitter Strip event, which coincides with the annual Magic Millions yearling sale and race day.
The addition of polo and showjumping to the racing program over recent years has been an initiative of Magic Millions owners Gerry Harvey and Katie Page, in part to bring the comparatively niche horse sports to a wider, mainstream audience.
“I think it’s really exciting. I think there’s a lot of people out there that love racing but there’s a lot of people out there that just like horses,” said Will Matthews (pictured), competitor in the GPI Racing & Newgate show jump team.
“Probably a large portion of the people that are passionate racing supporters perhaps haven’t seen some of these disciplines, so I think it’s really cool to mix it all together in one place for people to come and enjoy it.
“There’e an awesome atmosphere and this is a huge event for people to come to. There’s a lot of prize money for the show jumping, which is really cool for us.”
In just three years the Magic Millions spectacle has become one of Australia’s most lucrative show jumping events. The senior class competition is held in a slot holder format, under which teams of four compete for a staggering prize pool of $1.45 million.
The big bucks yesterday were won, for the second year running, by the Equine International Airfreight team comprising Robert Palm, Jessica Pateman, Rhys Stones and Nick Taliana.
Having purchased a slot for $85,000, Equine International Airfreight claimed first place winnings of $245,000.
Thousands flocked Doug Jennings Park for the event, held at The Spit on Gold Coast’s northern end and livestreamed online to an international audience.
The inaugural Queensland Off-The-Track Cup final featured riders who all had connections to the racing and breeding industry, and horses which were all former race horses.
Ex-racehorse Immortalis, ridden by champion Australian Olympian rider Peter McMahon, scooped up the lion’s share of a total $50,000 up for grabs in the Off-The-Track class.
Yandina’s Emmy Ravenscoft, Gatton’s Claire Crocombe, and Toowoomba’s William Kropp were introducing their Dutch friend Lauk Kaeijzer to the polo and show jumping action.
The trio are heavily involved in horse sports. Ravenscroft and Crocombe are show jumping competitors while William Kropp, son of Toowoomba racehorse trainer Matt Kropp, had been at the Magic Millions yearling sales searching for the Kropp stable’s next champion.
“We’ve been coming for a couple of years now and it’s a great day out because it brings everyone together. It’s fantastic,” Crocombe said.
“It’s a super idea. It shows horse disciplines other than the racing and the polo, it shows other perspectives. You’ve got celebrities and it brings everyone out here, especially on the Gold Coast because everyone wants to come down for a holiday as well.”
Kropp added: “I like the way they’ve got the thoroughbred initiative here with the show jumping. It’s really good to put a spotlight on what the horses can do after racing”.
Self professed “horse dad” Joerg Rhau was dancing along the sidelines of the arena with a group of family and friends, all of whom were show jumping enthusiasts and some of whom were seeing live polo for the first time.
Rhau said the enormous prize pool had made the Magic Millions one of Australia’s most attractive events for the country’s strongest competitors.
“It’s an amazing effort, putting this together, and to get that much prize money together to make it attractive for an elite field to come here,” Rhau said.
“They’ve come from all over Australia. This has become a national event. There are competitors from South Australia – that’s a week long trip to come here. It’s a huge effort for them and the animals.
“We’ve been overseas and watched international show jumping events there and this is a good match. It’s excellent, and it gets better and better every year,” Rhau said.
“Build it and people will come. I think it will become an institution, definitely.
“There’s a lot of people together who are in the horse industry. We’ve been catching up with people and we’ve dressed up and this is a space we don’t usually see each other in. Usually we’re in jodhpurs and shirts.”
German national Gillian Hahn was among the thousands of spectators who braved Sunday’s wet weather to see the show.
Hahn, who is based in the city of Bonn in Germany’s renowned Rhine River equine region, is a competitive show jumper who’s attended countless events across Europe but was witnessing Australian show jumping for the first time.
“There aren’t many grass arenas in Germany – it’s more on sand. You have some grass competitions of course but it’s not that common,” she said.
“You wouldn’t see a sand arena as big as those one. This is quite a big arena and it’s a long way for the horses to go and they really have to have the right condition to do the course.
“It’s a great spectator sport because even if you don’t know anything about show jumping you can see what it’s all about. It’s easy to see how fast the horses are going, whether the poles come down, the different competitors. You can get into it quite quickly.
“Even in Germany, when I take people to show jumping it’s easy for them to get in to it, whereas with dressage riding you really have to know what you’re looking at.”