Equestrianism / Horse of the year Show: Skelton seeks Major Wager profit

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NICK SKELTON won five competitions to be leading rider of the last Horse of the Year Show and he could well achieve similar results at Wembley this week, though the reduction in prize-money means that his take-home pay would still be considerably less than the pounds 28,820 which he collected last October, writes Genevieve Murphy.

Skelton's three mounts make a formidable trio: Everest Limited Edition, the leading horse at last month's Pavarotti International, the nimble mare, Florida, and Major Wager, the brilliant speed horse who is kept to the indoor winter circuit because of his aversion to jumping across water.

Last year Skelton's most profitable mount was David Broome's Phoenix Park, whose victories in the Masters and the Leading Jumper of the Year netted pounds 24,500. This time the grey horse, aged 17, will be ridden by his owner and probably kept to the smaller classes.

'I didn't decide to take him until Monday morning,' Broome said. 'Lannegan is not well, he must have some sort of virus because he's very lethargic, so Phoenix Park will take his place.' Ancit Countryman will be Broome's top mount and his probable partner for Saturday night's Leading Jumper of the Year and Sunday's Derby.

Though without the services of Milton, John Whitaker, the show's leading rider for three consecutive years from 1988, still has a strong hand. His top partner will be Henderson Gammon, whom he rode to win the world's richest prize of nearly pounds 100,000 in last month's Calgary Grand Prix.

The 11 overseas visitors do not include any riders among the top 30 on the world rankings but two young women - Alexandra Ledermann, from France and Jessica Chesney, from Ireland - could still prove tough opponents.

Ledermann, 23, was in devastating form in March when she rode Punition to win the Paris World Cup qualifier from the world champion, Eric Navet.

Her subsequent victories include the Grand Prix at two outdoor venues, Chaudfontaine and Flers.