Whitaker's mount, Virtual Village Absolom, jumped three impressive clear rounds, defeating Billington on Solitaire in a two-horse jump-off. Third place went to Robert Smith on Orthos, who cleared the fences but overran by a split second in the first of his two rounds for a quarter of a time fault.
The team trials, of which this was the first of four, were devised with the intention of opening up the competition for places on the squad for this year's European Championships. So far the new formula has given some encouragement to Smith - and to Mark Armstrong on Prima and Tim Stockdale on Toggi Interview, who finished equal fourth - but others must have had a distinct sense of deja vu.
David Broome, who was involved in setting the trials in motion in his role as chairman of the British Show Jumping Association, said that "cream always rises to the top." The observation referred to Nick Skelton and John Whitaker, joint sixth on Virtual Village Zalza and Hunter's Level, as well as their Olympic team-mates, who finished first and second.
Broome, nevertheless, defends the format, which will see the top three horse and rider combinations in the four trials gaining automatic selection for the British European Championship squad. "It's up to the others to earn themselves a place instead of moaning about it being a closed shop," Broome said.
Critics of the new trials were quick to point out that there was no water jump at Windsor and, considering that British horses landed in water on no fewer than seven occasions during the Atlanta Olympics, this seemed to leave out an essential element. Broome said that water will be included in the other three trials, the next of which is at Hickstead in July.
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