Equestrianism: Impressive Billington defies downpour

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Geoff Billington rode Virtual Village It's Otto to a splendid clear round in the rain last night, winning the Grand Prix at the Royal Windsor Horse Show by the commanding margin of 7.75sec. It was the first international grand prix victory for the horse, who was sixth and best of the British at the Olympic Games last year.

"Malcolm Pyrah told me there wouldn't be many clear rounds, so I should go fast without being crazy," Billington said. Having followed those instructions, he comfortably defeated Dutch-born Rob Hoekstra, who now rides for Britain, on Pebble Beach.

Hoekstra had won the earlier Hildon Six Bar with the US thoroughbred Lionel, who was the only horse to come through five rounds without a mistake. John Whitaker was another earlier victor, having won the Land Rover Great Park Stakes on Virtual Village Randi.

The Hungarian-bred grey stallion Randi, whom Whitaker bought from Jan Tos' yard in the Netherlands, gave an impressive performance when he sped clear to defeat two Dutchmen - Bert Romp on Burg's Mr Blue and Wout Jan van der Schans on Goldenbridge.

Tomorrow, when the home team contests the Nations Cup, Whitaker will have an unaccustomed place on the sidelines. He had told the selectors that he did not want to make Virtual Village Welham and Grannusch available for the team.

These were the two horses he rode when he was runner-up in the Volvo World Cup Final at the beginning of the month. Both are in their late teens and he believed that they deserved a rest.

The four British team members will be Michael Whitaker, Nick Skelton, Billington and Smith. Participation in the team contest could give them an edge over the elder Whitaker as they strive to accumulate points for the leading rider prize of a Land Rover Discovery. Points will be awarded for jumping clear rounds in the Nations Cup and they could prove crucial.

There is no need, however, to be distressed on the elder Whitaker's behalf. He has already won more than 60 cars in his career, four of them in the last six months.

ROYAL WINDSOR HORSE SHOW: Land Rover Grand Prix: 1 Virtual Village It's Otto (G Billington, GB) clear 52.24; 2 Pebble Beach (R Hoerkstra, GB) clear 59.99; 3 Telegroep Buddy (M Du Foor, Neth) clear 67.51. Land Rover Great Park Stakes: 1 Virtual Village Randi (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 54.82sec; 2 Burg's Mr Blue (B Romp, Neth) clear, 56.29; 3 Goldenbridge (W J van der Schans, Neth) clear, 57.09. Hildon Six Bar: 1 Lionel (Hoekstra) clear in fifth round; 2 Senator Mighty Blue (R Smith, GB) 4 faults in fifth round; 3= Granata (P Geerink, Neth), Gravur IV (G Bockmann, Ger) and Weinerwirbel (C-O Nagel, Ger) 4 faults in fourth round. Hermes Dressage Grand Prix: 1 Legal Democrat (C Hester) 65.53 per cent; 2 El Lute (E Faurie) 64.67; 3 Barrollo (D Hogg) 64.33. Harrods International Driving Grand Prix (Standings after dressage for horse teams): 1 G Bowman (GB) 40.5 penalties; 2 Y Chardon (Neth) 44.3; 3 F Brasseur (Bel) 45.3.