Britons poised for World Cup final

Click to follow

Franke Sloothaak's satisfactory start to the Volvo World Cup final began in the press interview room, rather than the indoor arena of the Scandinavium. It was there that the draw for tonight's first leg of the final took place, with Frank Chapot, of the United States, picking numbers out of one drum and Sloothaak taking the names of riders from another.

By happy coincidence Sloothaak, who is Germany's reigning world champion, ended up with the favoured last place. He will be the 39th to go in this competition, which is judged on time with seconds added for each fence lowered.

Germany's other fancied contender, the Olympic champion Ludger Beerbaum, also has a good draw. He starts in 37th place, just two before Sloothaak. Beerbaum went on to give a polished display in the arena when winning yesterday's first warm-up class on Sprehe Rush On.

This evening's opening leg of the World Cup final will see a little-known Cypriot, Antonis Petris, bearing the responsibility of going first. At least the four British riders are better placed than he is - with Geoff Billington 19th, John Whitaker 24th, Nick Skelton 26th and MichaelWhitaker 30th.

Both Whitaker brothers (riding horses that are not involved in the three legs of the final) had a crack at winning yesterday's first warm-up class. But the last jump-off fence thwarted their efforts. Michael had a run-out there to finish eighth on the keen bay mare, Everest Diana. John, who was fastest of all, had to settle for ninth after Elton clobbered the last.

The Britons were more circumspect in the second warm-up class, when riding their top horses. John Whitaker had a steady clear round on Welham, who will be his mount this evening. Michael Whitaker (Everest Twostep), Nick Skelton (Dollar Girl) and Geoff Billington (It's Otto) had a quiet school over part of the course and then retired.

Billington, 40 last month, won his first prize of a car when he collected a Mercedes in Zurich two weeks ago. He has his best-ever mount in the nine-year-old Dutch-bred, It's Otto, with whom he is contesting his first World Cup final.

Much to the delight of the home crowd, Swedish riders filled the top three places in the second warm-up. But none of the trio, led by Rolf- Goran Bengtsson, has qualified for the World Cup final.

VOLVO WORLD CUP FINAL (Gothenburg): 1st warm-up class: 1 Sprehe Rush On (L Beerbaum, Ger) clear, 31.58sec; 2 Uquilo le Fol (H Godignon, Fr) clear, 31.77; 3 Lollipop III (L McNaught-Mandli, Swit) clear, 33.98. Eurohorse Trophy (2nd warm-up): 1 Almeto Z (R-G Bengtsson, Swe) clear, 56.17; 2 Shalom Hall (M Backstrom, Swe) clear, 57.76; 3 Feliciano (M Gretzer, Swe) clear, 61.81.