EQUESTRIANISM: Britain ready to enjoy the Roman deluge

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THE TRAINING session for show jumping horses at the World Equestrian Games took place in torrential rain yesterday, but fortunately the temporary sand surface in Rome's Flaminio Stadium proved adequate to the conditions. There was no question of abandoning any part of the show jumping championship, which begins with a speed contest today.

Horses may have looked as though they were slapping through pools at the seaside yesterday, but they were not sinking into the ground as would have happened on sodden turf. If we had needed a demonstration on the advantages of a sand surface, this was it. As Franke Sloothaak, the defending world champion from Germany, said: "You always can ride on sand, whatever the weather."

The grass at Pratoni del Vivaro, where the three-day event was completed on Sunday, is proving more of a problem. All the lorries conveying teams of four horses and their vehicles there for the driving championship had to be towed in by tractor on Monday.

A further deluge yesterday morning delayed the first horse inspection for the driving, which eventually took place at midday. With more rain forecast, it is still possible that the contest (in which 46 competitors from 15 nations are due to take part) will have to be cancelled. That would be a great disappointment for Britain's 63-year-old George Bowman, who has been silver medallist at the last two world championships and was hoping to go one better this week.

Ronnie Massarella, manager of the Great Britain show jumping team, reported that all his riders and horses are "in very good order". They had stopped at Modena on Sunday evening and schooled their horses there before completing the journey to Rome on Monday.

The British team riders (Geoff Billington, Di Lampard, Nick Skelton and John Whitaker) plus the reserve (James Fisher) came through their training session in the Flaminio Stadium without any problems, despite having to jump in the worst of yesterday morning's fierce deluge.

Massarella reckons that there are 10 good teams here (out of the 19 in contention) and that any one of them could win. "We are among the 10 and we'll certainly be trying, but it's not going to be easy. We could even find it difficult to get into the top six, which would qualify us for the Olympics in Sydney." Though he did not specify the top 10, Massarella would certainly have included the defending champions from Germany among the possible winners of the team title, which will be decided after a two-round Nations Cup-type contest tomorrow.

France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Brazil would also have to come into the reckoning. But a victory for Britain would come as no surprise to Eric Wauters, the senior member of the Belgian team competing here. "The weather conditions are very English. They could be really strong here," he said.

It has not gone unnoticed by Wauters and most of the other competitors that Skelton and Virtual Village Hopes are High have won three grands prix in succession since they teamed up as a partnership in July. On that reckoning, Skelton is fancied to gain one of the four places in the individual final on Sunday, when the riders compete on their own and each other's horses.

Sloothaak, who became individual champion four years ago in The Hague, has only recently been confirmed as a member of the German team.

His mount, San Patrignano Joly, has been having treatment for an injured back and he would not have been able to compete if the World Games had taken place in August.