EQUESTRIANISM: Billington books his berth

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The Independent Online


reports from Hickstead

Geoff Billington made sure of his place on the British team for tomorrow's Nations Cup when jumping a double clear round on It's Otto to take second place in yesterday's ENZA British Grand Prix. He was beaten by the 27- year-old German horse dealer, Ulrich Kirchhoff, who was competing here for the first time and had never previously won a grand prix.

Billington had not attempted a fast time in the jump-off. "I had such a good rhythm, I didn't want to push the horse out of it," he said. "It meant that I left the door open, but I hadn't expected Ulrich to go so fast."

Kirchhoff, who will be riding in his eighth Nations Cup tomorrow, did not hang about on Jus de Pommes, an aptly named winner of the first British Grand Prix to be sponsored by ENZA, a firm that markets New Zealand apples.

Billington, who has ridden in more than 20 of these contests abroad, will be making his Nations Cup debut. His team-mates look certain to be John Whitaker on Everest Welham, William Funnell on Comex and Emma-Jane Mac on Diamond.

Michael Whitaker, who is the fifth member of the squad, would prefer to be left out, as he will have to give Elton at least a month off after discovering that the stallion has sprained his near fore fetlock. Elton was substituted by Diana in the grand prix and the mare refused at the double of water ditches, depositing Whitaker on the floor.

"She's never seen anything like this before, it was probably daft to ride her in the grand prix," Whitaker said. He obviously thinks it even dafter to subject the mare to two rounds in the Nations Cup.

Both Whitaker brothers, normally the best of the Britons, had a fall yesterday. John's tumble happened in the earlier Speed Stakes, when Randi came to an abrupt halt at the Devil's Dyke.

NATIONS CUP MEETING (Hickstead): ENZA British Grand Prix: 1 Jus de Pommes (U Kirchhoff, Ger) clear, 59.39sec; 2 It's Otto (G Billington, GB) clear, 62.49; 3 Ben Hur (D Bowen, GB) 0.5 fault, 70.60.

ENZA New Zealand Chase: 1 Diamond Express (F Connors, Irl) clear, 61.56; 2 Dun Equity (K Shore, GB) clear, 62.36; 3 Quartzy II (E Couperie, Fr) clear, 63.41.