Former world champion Dermott Lennon ensured that Irish eyes were smiling on day one of the Ashford Farm CSI**** Bolesworth International by delivering a commanding display on the consistently successful Loughview Lou-Lou.
Irish star Lennon won the 1.50metre four-star speed class, sponsored by AGA, to continue a successful season that saw the combination crowned grand prix champions at Royal Windsor last month.
Their time of 60.13 seconds proved too hot to handle for the rest of a 55-strong field as world number one Scott Brash's Bolesworth debut ended in frustration when he was eliminated at fence three aboard Hello Forever after the horse refused.
Lennon, though, had no such trouble, claiming victory and a £7,260 prize by an emphatic margin from British challenger Nicole Pavitt and Victor Blue, while American Laura Kraut was third aboard Nouvelle and Laura Renwick fourth on Heliodor Hybris.
“The course jumped well,” said Lennon, who won the world title in 2002. “There was a lot of turning, but it was a fair course and the ground was really good to help you make the turns.
“Lou-Lou is actually easier to ride when she is going fast, and she has a huge stride. It suited us today.
“This is my first year here at Bolesworth, and it is a stunning place. It's beautiful.”
Renwick, meanwhile, ensured a flying start for Great Britain on day one by winning the opening four-star class.
The Essex-based Nations Cup star landed a thrilling 1.30metre two-phase competition, sponsored by Aggreko, with the 14-year-old mare Beluga.
Beluga, a speed course specialist and regular winner on the British and European circuits, clocked 29.02 seconds to secure a first prize of just under £1,000. The top four finishers were separated by just 42 hundredths of a second.
Irish Olympian Marion Hughes was second aboard Laith, while Keith Shore and Zegreanne Z took third spot, just ahead of Pavitt and Our Duchess as Bolesworth, running at four-star level for the first time, got under way in the spectacular grounds of Bolesworth Castle in Cheshire.
“She is an amazing horse,” said Renwick. “She has won at every age, and is naturally quick.
“She is back from having a few weeks off, and she just did what she always does. She will jump anything, and that type of class is her bread and butter.
“I know her so well, and if everything goes well, then she is going to be there or thereabouts.
“I first came here to Bolesworth when the show was in a grass arena. I couldn't come here last year, but I had heard so much about it, and it really is amazing. I am so impressed with the set-up.”
Elsewhere, Harriet Nuttall and her speed machine Silver Lift wasted little time in making an impact as the Somerset rider continued a highly-successful year on the 10-year-old grey gelding by winning the 1.40metre two-phase class, sponsored by A W Jenkinsons.
The Castle Arena's main feature class proved to be a thrilling spectacle, with Nuttall clocking a jump-off time of 29.89 seconds that gave her victory from Ireland's Captain Michael Kelly on Drumiller Lough, while James Smith and Tyson Uno finished third.
It was another classy performance by Silver Lift, and acted as perfect preparation for next week's Hickstead Speed Derby, where Nuttall hopes he can go one better than last year's runners-up spot.
“He is a quick horse, and he is in his element at 1.40m,” she said. “He has been winning a lot recently, taking a class at the Odense Nations Cup Show and in Lisbon.
“The Castle Arena is on a bit more of a slope than you would think, but he likes a bit of hilly ground and that really suited him today. I had a particularly good shot to the oxer fence up the hill.
“He is part-thoroughbred, so he has a good canter and is quick over the ground. He was second in the Hickstead Speed Derby last year, and he has got a very good record there.”
The pick of the day's two-star action saw a thrilling 1.40m two-phase, sponsored by TRM, go to Lincolnshire rider Louise Saywell.
Saywell, who was a Great Britain team member at the 2013 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona aboard Hello Winner, guided Mr Darcy home in a time of 33.25 seconds, which proved just four hundredths of a second quicker than runner-up Emma Stoker and Townend Tallulah V.
“We will save him now for the grand prix on Sunday. He is a naturally fast horse,” she said.
“Winner is injured, so I have had to drop back down, which has been difficult. I am building back up, and I have some really nice seven and eight-year-olds, and the aim is to find a horse that will be good enough for Nations Cup level.
“Bolesworth is an unbelievable show. Nina (Bolesworth International owner and show president Nina Barbour) is doing a great job of providing shows that we need in this country, and this is one of the best shows throughout the world.
“The (international) ring is completely unique – the surface, the surroundings, everything about it.
“Some shows in England struggle to get foreign riders to it, but I don't think Nina will ever have that problem here because every time new people come to it they go away saying how amazing it is.”
Other two-star winners on day one at Bolesworth were Danny McGlynn, who guided Ghana home in the 1.20m two-phase sponsored by Land Rover Experience Peckforton, while Paul Barker and Lux Fabulous took the 1.30m speed class, sponsored by the TGE Group.
There was a thrilling battle in the amateur two-phase 1.20m, sponsored by Halsall Electrical, as 17-year-old Berkshire rider Emma Shingles and Torino triumphed by just three hundredths of a second from America's Molly Ohrstrom, and the Lycetts-sponsored six and seven-year-old class went to Brazil's Marlon Modolo Zanotell, riding the Ashford Farm-owned Cool Clarimo.