Equestrianism: Nieberg's clear route to clean-up

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LARS NIEBERG collected the winner-takes-all reward of pounds 11,000 after jumping Loro Piana Albertino to four clear rounds in yesterday's Vink Masters on the fourth day of the Olympia Show Jumping Championships.

The German rider left his two closest rivals - Ludger Beerbaum (also from Germany) and Britain's John Whitaker - with just the pounds 1,000 that went to each of the six losers. Whitaker failed when Virtual Village Randi hit the second part of the final double in the fourth round, before Beerbaum and Champion de Lys took a rail off the big oxer at fence three.

Revised rules meant that there would have been a timed jump-off had the competition gone to a fifth round but, unfortunately, we were denied such a final showdown between top riders.

Pleasing though it was, the prize could not compensate Nieberg for the loss of his top horse, For Pleasure, who will go to a young German rider after this show. The stallion's owner, Robert Diestal, is apparently dissatisfied with Nieberg's record during his four years with the horse - even though it includes two runners-up prizes in the Volvo World Cup final and team gold medals at the Olympics and the world and European championships.

Last year Beerbaum won both the World Cup qualifier and the Masters at Olympia. John Whitaker must have been hoping to achieve the same double after his World Cup victory here on Saturday when he completed a wonderfully swift jump-off round on 19-year-old Grannusch.

Whitaker had thought of retiring his venerable partner 12 months ago, but the horse has been in sparkling form this year, winning the first two legs of the World Cup final in April as well as the qualifier here. The Olympia victory once again underlined Whitaker's remarkable talent for keeping older horses fit and happy, as did his win in this year's British Jumping Derby at Hickstead on 21-year-old Gammon.

Robert Smith and another sprightly veteran, 18-year-old Senator Tees Hanauer, won yesterday's Vink Mistletoe Stakes. Although 14 horses were left to jump after his whirlwind round, Smith was always confident that he had outpaced the opposition and would win the contest.