Equestrianism: Beerbaum upstages Whitakers: Grannusch wins vote

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LUDGER BEERBAUM, Germany's Olympic champion, took an early lead in the Volvo World Cup final when he won yesterday's opening leg on Almox Ratina Z, the nimble mare he rode to victory in the qualifier at Olympia last December.

Close behind are the Dutchman Jos Lansink and the Whitaker brothers - Michael, who is lying third on Everest Midnight Madness, just ahead of John on Grannusch.

Had they not incurred the six-second penalty for a fence down, the Whitakers would have been lying first and second for Britain. Nick Skelton, who had to add a 12-second penalty to his fast time on Everest Major Wager, is now lying 12th.

Midnight Madness's single error came at the 11th of 13 fences, just as everyone was preparing to hail a new leader in the speed competition. This was a spread fence that caught out quite a few contenders.

'The horses only saw it in the last few strides,' Whitaker explained. 'I came at it a bit too slow, I should have held the horse up and then pushed on.' He was nevertheless pleased with his talented bay partner, who will be his mount in this evening's second leg and Monday's final contest.

John Whitaker had decided to ride Everest Grannusch in this first leg after winning the second warm-up class on Thursday night, in which Michael was second on Polydektes and Nick Skelton fourth on Limited Edition.

Yesterday, Grannusch lowered the planks, the penultimate fence, in an otherwise flawless round. John Whitaker won two major three-part contests last year - the German Classic in Bremen and the Renault final in Paris - when using Grannusch for the first leg and the improving chestnut has again kept him in close contention.

Skelton had the only disappointing round for Britain, though he is not totally out of the hunt. His two mistakes on the speedy Major Wager came at the second part of the double, fence No 6, and the problem 11th where Michael Whitaker made his only mistake.

WORLD CUP FINAL (Gothenburg) Bil And Truck Trophy: 1 Everest Grannusch (J Whitaker) clear, 31.03sec; 2 Everest Polydektes (M Whitaker, GB) clear, 31.69; 3 Almox Grand Plaisir (L BeerBaum, Ger) clear, 31.86; 4 Everest Limited Edition (Nick Skelton, GB) clear, 31.90. Rank Xerox Trophy: 1 Sandbyvillans Paradiso (R George Bengtsson, Swe) clear, 44.13sec; 2 Angelique (C Arvidsson, Swe) clear, 44.71; 3 Poor Richard (G Lindermann Jnr, US) clear, 44.96; 4 Everest Jeopardy (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 45.38. Volvo World Cup final, first leg: 1 Almox Ratina Z (L Beerbaum, Ger) 75.33; 2 Bollvor's Libero H (J Lansink, Neth) 76.27; 3 Everest Midnight Madness (M Whitaker, GB) 78.76; 4 Everest Grannusch (J Whitaker, GB) 79.69. Other GB: 12 Everest Major Wager (N Skelton) 86.77.