Equestrianism: Skelton convinced of ruining his chances: Whitaker in contention

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The Independent Online
NICK SKELTON'S victory in last night's Grand Prix on Everest Major Wager served only to reinforce his belief he had scuppered his chances in the World Cup final when he had two fences down on the same horse in Friday's first leg. 'It wasn't Major's fault, I didn't ride him well enough,' Skelton said of that earlier contest.

Skelton is now in fourth place for the World Cup, which will be decided in today's final leg, but he is convinced victory will go to one of the leaders - Germany's Olympic champion, Ludger Beerbaum, or Britain's John Whitaker, who was 2.5 faults behind after Saturday's second leg.

Beerbaum, 29, has shown no previous sign of collapsing under pressure, but he knows that his partner, the nimble little mare, Almox Ratina, could be feeling jaded by the end of today's two rounds. Ratina jumped in the first two legs, whereas Whitaker rode Everest Grannusch, who was fourth in last night's Grand Prix, in Friday's opening leg and kept Milton for the last two contests.

'The bigger the fences, the better for Milton,' Whitaker said of his 16- year-old grey partner, who is the idol of the crowds in Gothenburg. The Briton is well aware that a single mistake from Ratina could give him the chance to gain a record third victory.

Michael Matz, of the United States, who moved up to overall third when winning Saturday night's contest from Beerbaum and Whitaker, needs two mistakes from Ratina and one from Milton if he is to have the chance of repeating the 1981 victory he achieved in Birmingham. Matz is riding the French-bred Rhum IV, who was bought two weeks ago by F Eugene Dixon Jnr, the owner of Jet Run with whom the American rider had gained his earlier World Cup win.

Whereas Skelton progressed from 12th to fourth when he rode Limited Edition on Saturday, Michael Whitaker plummeted from third to equal 18th with 8.25 faults on Midnight Madness. 'I don't know what went wrong,' the younger Whitaker brother said. 'The horse may have been unsettled by the speed competition the day before or maybe I was a bit tense and that wouldn't have helped him.

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