EQUESTRIANISM: Dream comes true for Skelton

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Nick Skelton gained his first major international title yesterday when he moved up from second overnight to win the Volvo World Cup final on the 15-year-old mare, Everest Dollar Girl. He defeated the German rider, Lars Nieberg, and the British-born Lesley McNaught-Mandli, now riding for Switzerland, after a two-round contest of tremendous tension.

They went in reverse order of merit and Nieberg, fifth overnight on the wonderful nine-year-old, For Pleasure, put pressure on those ahead of him by jumping clear over the first course of 13 fences. The next three were to make a single error apiece - last year's Dutch winner, Jos Lansink, the German world champion, Franke Sloothaak, and Skelton, who blamed himself for underriding Dollar Girl to the triple bar, which she hit. These three dropped behind Nieberg in the overall placings. So, too, did Michael Whitaker, the overnight leader, whose problems began coming into a difficult line of two doubles, fences six and seven. Having thought he was on a good stride with Everest Twostep, the horse spooked and lost his impulsion.

Whitaker was lucky to have only one fence down on that particular line, but Twostep was upset by the experience and he lowered another two rails, dropping from first to sixth. He advanced one place to finish fifth after the second round, but it was, nevertheless, another painful experience for the younger Whitaker brother, who was leading in the closing stages of the 1984 Olympics and the 1989 European Championships before seeing victory slip away.

Skelton had woken at 4am, having dreamt that he had won the World Cup. The real thing was only slightly different from the nocturnal victory, in which Whitaker (rather than Nieberg) had the single mistake in the second round, leaving Skelton with the plum prize of a Volvo car and £50,000.

During yesterday's two rounds, Skelton had looked far more relaxed than his supporters. "I've never felt so confident with Dollar Girl," he said. "She felt better than she's ever done and I'm pleased for her, she deserved to win." The mare was also slimmer and fitter than she has been since arriving in Skelton's Warwickshire yard in 1992.

Michael Whitaker was the leading rider of the show, which gave him some compensation for his World Cup defeat - especially as the leading trio won cars. There was similar compensation for the two Germans, Ludger Beerbaum and Franke Sloothaak, who had come here with high hopes of winning the World Cup and still ended up with a Volvo apiece by coming second and third on points over the five-day meeting.