Equestrianism: Midnight Madness hoping for his finest hour: British riders mount their challenge in tomorrow's European Show Jumping Championships

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL WHITAKER has come here, on the northern coast of Spain, in the unaccustomed position of being the most fancied of the four British riders contesting this week's European Show Jumping Championships. Normally his 37-year-old older brother, John, shoulders that responsibility. But John is without Milton, whereas Michael has a mount of formidable talent in the bay gelding, Everest Midnight Madness.

The championships, which begin tomorrow after today's optional warm-up classes, will be the biggest test so far for Midnight Madness. But the horse has already proved his power and agility this year in two of the world's greatest show jumping arenas: Hickstead and Aachen.

At both venues, Midnight Madness jumped double clear rounds in the Nations Cup and was faultless in the Grand Prix, winning at Hickstead and being beaten into second place by a split second at Aachen. Whitaker, who rates this horse as the best he has ridden, will be hungry to win his first European title having been runner-up to his brother four years ago.

John Whitaker now rides Everest Gammon, who is brilliant on his day but lacks the consistency of the absent Milton who is still recovering from injury. The same is true of Nick Skelton's mount, Dollar Girl, whose record includes some wonderful performances (victory in the St Gallen Grand Prix and a double clear round in the La Baule Nations Cup this year).

Mark Armstrong, 32, completes the British team. He rides the brave and powerful mare, Corella, in his first European championships. British teams that included the two Whitaker brothers and Skelton won three consecutive European titles before finishing second to the Netherlands two years ago.

The Dutch, German and French will be tough opponents as Britain attempts to regain the team title which will be decided during tomorrow's speed class and Friday's two-round competition.