Equestrianism: Milton primed for twin triumph

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The Independent Online
JOHN and Michael Whitaker's sponsorship by Henderson ended with a flourish when the brothers finished first and second - on Milton and Midnight Madness - in the Paris Grand Prix on Sunday. Their three-year term with Everest can get off to a flying start when the Olympia Show Jumping Championships begin their five- day run this afternoon.

Everest Milton, as the grey superstar will now be known, also won in Paris last year before taking the first big prize on offer at Olympia. John Whitaker's 35 rivals, representing 12 different countries, will be aware that the great horse is on form and ready to capture a large slice of the pounds 160,000 prize-money which is on offer.

Notwithstanding the presence of Germany's Olympic champion, Ludger Beerbaum, Whitaker's most threatening rival could be his younger brother, Michael, who was the leading rider at Olympia last year. Michael's mounts include his Silk Cut Derby winner, Monsanta, and Midnight Madness who has been jumping with burgeoning assurance during recent months.

Midnight Madness won the King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead's Royal International Horse Show in June, but looked short of experience on a subsequent trip to Aachen. With more mileage on the clock since then, this attractive bay gelding may now be poised for stardom.

'He has lots of scope and is very careful, he's a real winner,' Whitaker said of the Dutch-bred horse, who was bought in Canada by Sir Phil Harris last December. He would like to ride Midnight Madness at the Volvo World Cup final in Gothenburg next Easter.

The Whitakers and other Britons - notably Nick Skelton - will be eager to earn some points in this country's only World Cup qualifier, which will be held at the beginning of Olympia's Saturday afternoon session. The Dutchman Jos Lansink and Germany's Franke Sloothaak, now equal third and fifth in the European League, do not require any further points to qualify for the final but would nonetheless be pleased to gain some on Saturday.

At present Veronique Whitaker, lying 21st, is the best-placed Briton in the league. But, much to the chagrin of her husband, Michael, she has not been invited to Olympia where she won the World Cup qualifier last year.

The organisers had agreed to take the top 11 home riders on the computer rankings, plus five others who qualified at a recent show in Cheshire. Michael believes that they should have ignored Tim Grubb, who is in 11th place on the British rankings but now back home in the United States, and instead included his wife who is lying 12th. Her absence means that only four women, among them Britain's Tina Cassan and Marie Edgar, will be competing this week.

Edgar's uncle, David Broome, is the only rider to have competed in all 20 previous Olympia Championships. The Welshman hopes to have Ancit Countryman back to his best form after giving the Irish- bred gelding a holiday.

The late Raymond Brooks- Ward was the director of this festive show, with its wonderfully successful blend of fun, pageantry and top-class jumping, from its inception. He will be commemorated by a memorial trophy, which will be presented tomorrow night to the rider, aged 25 or under, who is deemed to have the greatest potential for senior international success.