Equestrianism: Selectors put their faith in Otto

DESPITE A worrying number of refusals this year, Geoff Billington has been chosen to ride Virtual Village It's Otto for the British team in the European Show Jumping Championships, which open this afternoon with the speed competition, writes Genevieve Murphy.

He joins Di Lampard on Abbervail Dream, Michael Whitaker on the huge stallion, Calvaro, and Nick Skelton on Hopes are High. Much to his disappointment, Robert Smith has been omitted from the quartet with Senator Tees Hanauer.

"It was a difficult decision to make," said Michael Bullman, the chairman of the selectors. "Robert's horse has had a week off through lameness. He's 19 years old now and we thought it would be asking questions that were too risky."

Including It's Otto is also a risky business. The horse was eliminated twice at Aachen in June and he had two refusals before retiring in the Dublin Grand Prix. At both shows his problems occurred at big treble combinations.

Bullman and fellow selectors Malcolm Pyrah, newly appointed as the squad coach, and David Broome were unanimous. "To win you need a bit of class and Otto's one of the best in the world," Pyrah said.

John Whitaker, out of the team because his two top horses are lame, won yesterday's Derby Tankard, which was confined to non-championship riders, on Steps Helsinki.

Results, Digest, page 25

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