Equestrianism: Enter the new Milton

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The Independent Online
FRANKE SLOOTHAAK, of Germany, won the Grand Prix on the closing day of the French Nations Cup meeting, confirming that his mount, Weihaiwej, the white-faced chestnut mare, is just about the most exciting show jumper in the world.

A former owner had claimed that Weihaiwej would prove to be even better than Milton, the mount of John Whitaker who was not competing here. That boast did not seem far-fetched as the nine-year-old zipped round the jump-off course, clearing fences with consummate ease.

Only four of the 59 starters, none of them Britons, jumped clear over an exceptionally tough opening course. Both Mark Armstrong, on Corella, and David Broome, on Lannegan, had two fences down. Nick Skelton retired Everest Dollar Girl after clobbering two of the first three fences and Michael Whitaker, winner of the earlier Take Your Own Line contest, had 13.25 faults on Twostep.

It had looked as though clear rounds would come thick and fast after a little-known Italian, Gianni Govoni, who jumped second on the Irish-bred Imperial King, went round without error. But the course proved difficult. Imperial King was clear again in the jump-off. Leslie Lenehan, of the United States, beat his time, but dislodged a rail from the second fence with Gem Twist, before Sloothaak completed his marvellous winning round.

Michael Whitaker's earlier success on My Mesieur gave him particular satisfaction due to those who stood next to him in the prize-giving: Ludger Beerbaum, the Olympic champion, and Eric Navet, the world and European champion.

NATIONS CUP (La Baule, Fr) Grand Prix: 1 San Patrignano Weihaiwej (F Sloothaak, Ger) clear, 39.46secs; 2 Imperial King (G Govoni, It) clear, 41.58; 3 Gem Twist (L Lenahan, US) 4 faults, 40.61. Take Your Own Line for Prix de la Ville: 1 Everest My Mesieur (M Whitaker, GB) 1120 points, 66.60; 2 Almox Grand Plaisir (L Beerbaum, Ger) 1080, 65.50; 3 Waiti Roxane de Gruchy (E Navet, Fr) 1070, 71.37.