Equestrianism: Billington achieves his dream and joins the elite

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The Independent Online
Geoff Billington achieved a long-standing goal last week when he moved up to eighth place on the World Jumping Rankings. He joins his Olympic team-mates, John (third), Michael Whitaker (sixth) and Nick Skelton (10th), among the top 10 in the world.

All four riders will be competing in the Royal Windsor Horse Show, which begins its five-day run this morning and, for the first time, is the venue for the British Nations Cup on Sunday. They will be jumping for prizes worth more than pounds 150,000, which include a Land Rover Discovery to be awarded to the leading rider of the show.

Billington, Michael Whitaker, Skelton and Robert Smith have been chosen as the British quartet which will compete against teams from Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. The German visitors include Carsten- Otto Nagel, who won the Grand Prix at Olympia last year.

Smith is still understandably devastated by the loss of his wonderful young stallion, Big Time, who died last month after an attack of colic. He was by far the best show jumper that Smith has ever ridden.

The 18-year-old Senator Tees Hanauer, winner of the 1996 World Cup qualifier at Olympia, is now likely to be Smith's mount for both Friday evening's Grand Prix and Sunday's Samsung Nations Cup. Smith will probably ride Orthos, owned jointly by Ronnie Massarella and Don Beard, in tomorrow's Hildon International Team Trial.

This is the first in the new series of four team trials, from which the top three on overall points will automatically be selected for the British squad which contests the European Show Jumping Championships at Mannheim in Germany in August.

Billington expects to ride Solitaire, whom he bought 18 months ago in Denmark, in the trial. He will also be partnering his Olympic partner, Virtual Village It's Otto, and the promising eight-year-old Niko, who finished second, behind John Whitaker on Neble, in the Young Horse Championship at Munich last weekend.

Skelton's mounts will include Virtual Village Zalza, now fully recovered from the attack of colic which prevented him from competing in the Volvo World Cup final earlier this month. Skelton also rides Showtime and the stallion Tinka's Boy, who jumped a clear round in the Nations Cup last weekend in La Baule where he was sixth in the Grand Prix.