Equestrianism: Beerbaum thwarts Whitaker

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LUDGER BEERBAUM, the European champion from Germany, put paid to the probability of a John Whitaker double and a family treble when he rode Champion de Lys to win last night's P&O Christmas Tree Challenge at the Olympia Show Jumping Championships.

Beerbaum's grey stallion is only an eight-year-old, but he already has the ability to twist and turn against the clock - as he proved with telling effect when defeating Whitaker's wonderful round on Virtual Village Welham by 1.16 seconds. Welham, who sustained a tendon injury when winning this class last year, is Whitaker's probable mount for tomorrow's Traxdata World Cup qualifier.

Michael Whitaker had kept the family name to the fore when riding Twostep to win the P&O Christmas Stakes. Earlier he had been eliminated when partnering his 15-year-old nephew, Robert (the son of his brother John), in the Petplan Family Pairs Relay after they dropped the teddy bear which was used instead of a baton. Michael should have dismounted to pick up the bear, but has "a dodgy knee", so his nephew leapt off and unwittingly incurred elimination.

Michael's knee has been a problem ever since playing in a football match at the Pavarotti Horse Show in June. "I never even kicked the ball, I was injured when I made a sliding tackle," he said. The pairs relay was eventually won by the show jumper William Funnell and his eventing wife, Pippa, who had also been victorious two years ago.

John Whitaker and his fleet-footed 19-year-old partner, Virtual Village Grannusch, sped their way to an opening day victory when winning the Petplan Stakes. Though Whitaker said that his winning round was "not break-neck stuff" it looked fairly spectacular to those watching another superb perfor- mance from the Yorkshireman. He was, he says, able "to take a bit of a pull" coming in to the last of the 10 fences, which was on an awkward turn and was the undoing of some of his opponents - notably Robert Smith, who was the last to go on Senator for the Best.

Lesley McNaught, the British-born rider who represents Switzerland, had been first to go when she raced round on Bim II. She eventually stood second in the line-up, between Whitaker and his younger brother, Michael, on eight-year-old Hilton, with whom he was third in the World Cup qualifier at Millstreet in Ireland in October.

Grannusch, who won the first two legs of this year's Volvo World Cup final in Helsinki before dropping back to ninth place in the overall placings, has kept his form remarkably well with his advancing years. Whitaker, who has a reputation for keeping elderly horses in winning form, is well aware of the chestnut gelding's limitations.

"He's such a trier, I don't like stretching him to his limits," Whitaker said after yesterday's victory. "Sometimes I think Grannusch struggles over the bigger fences, so I'll probably ride Welham in the World Cup qualifier."

Welham is only a year young-er than Grannusch and Whitaker, who knows both horses so well, wonders whether his two veteran mounts might be a little bit too well aware of their rider's way of doing things. "It's like kids, they know me so well that they're aware of little things that they can get away with," he said.

OLYMPIA SHOW JUMPING CHAMPIONSHIPS: Petplan Stakes: 1 Virtual Village Grannusch (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 47.40sec; 2 Bim II (L McNaught, Swit) clear, 48.11; 3 Virtual Village Hilton (M Whitaker, GB ) clear, 48.59. Petplan Family Pair Relay Final: 1 Comex (W Funnell) and Henkie (P Funnell) clear, 70.17sec; 2 Kildalton Lad (P Barker) and Townhead Karibund (J Andrews) 4 faults, 72.30; 3 Virtual Village Heyman (J Whitaker) and Livingston II (L Whitaker) 8 faults, 76.28. P&O Christmas Tree Challenge: 1 Champion de Lys (L Beerbaum, Ger) clear, 33.86secs; 2 Virtual Village Welham (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 35.02; 3 V&L de Sjiem (J Dubbeldam, Neth) clear, 36.20. P&O Christmas Stakes: 1 Virtual Village Twostep (M Whitaker, GB) 42.92secs; 2 Valiska Forever (P Lejeune, Bel) 44.41; 3 Equity (D Lampard, GB) 44.48.