Charles laments lack of talent as Whitaker takes control

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The Independent Online
Michael Whitaker continued to prove the strength of his string of show jumpers yesterday when he rode Virtual Village Ashley to win the Royal International Grand Prix.

The contest incorporated the second of four new International Championship British Team Trials to be held this year and Whitaker, who won the first of them at Windsor on Absalom, remains unbeaten.

Yesterday he defeated Ireland's European champion, Peter Charles, on T'Aime, with Nick Skelton filling third place on the excellent eight-year-old stallion, Tinka's Boy.

No new talent has emerged in these trials so far. Instead they seem to be achieving their other purpose in proving that Britain's regular team members (the Whitaker brothers, Skelton and Geoff Billington) really are the best in the country. Others can, it is said, stop moaning about there being a closed shop.

The course, according to Whitaker, was "not crazy big". Indeed Michael Bullman, chairman of the selection committee, felt that it was too small, but it was made more demanding when the fences were raised for the jump- off.

The winning horse, Ashley, will not necessarily be Whitaker's mount for next month's European Show Jumping Championships at Mannheim in Germany. His more experienced mount, Twostep, is now back in work, having suffered from back problems which resulted from him having three vertebrae too close together. The horse should be reappearing in a couple of weeks' time.

Skelton is beginning to believe that Tinka's Boy, although only an eight- year-old, should be his European Championships partner. "Everyone else thinks so," he said. "He's brave and careful and he has enough ability."

The lack of emerging talent does not, however, bode well for British show jumping. Peter Charles, for long frustrated in his bid for a place on a British championship team before taking Irish nationality, believes that there was much greater strength in depth a decade ago.

Charles would have welcomed team trials when he was riding for Britain, but he wonders about their validity now. "You can't knock them, but it's a bit like going through the motions, because there aren't enough good horses and riders around," he said. "At the moment the British are very weak."

Charles is short of top horsepower himself. An injury to his best mount, La Ina, who damaged his off-foreleg on the first day of the Aachen show in Germany last month, means that he will not be defending his European title next month.

"I would love to go to the Championships and do well, I'm very ambitious," Charles said, "but if the horses I have can't do a good enough job there's no point in going."

ROYAL INTERNATIONAL HORSE SHOW (Hickstead, Sussex): Royal International Grand Prix (incorporating the International Championship British Team Trial): 1 Virtual Village Ashley (M Whitaker, GB) clear, 54.59; 2 T'Aime (P Charles, Irl) clear, 55.56; 3 Virtual Village Tinka's Boy (N Skelton, GB) clear, 57.50. Royal International Speed Challenge: 1 Fedor (P Geerink, Neth) 55.36secs; 2 Virtual Village Hunter's Level (J Whitaker, GB) 55.37; 3 Convent Hill Diamond (R Splaine, Irl) 55.42.