Equestrianism: Skelton makes right moves with Showtime

Nick Skelton had put the turmoil of moving house behind him yesterday, when he rode a whirlwind clear round on Virtual Village Showtime to win the Petplan Christmas Candle Stakes on the opening day of the Olympia Show Jumping Championships.

Skelton moved his home and the yard where he keeps his horses earlier this month. He remains in the Warwickshire village of Lowsonford and is now a neighbour of Robert Smith, who also recently moved to a new house and stables.

According to Skelton, the mare Showtime has not been the same since competing in the Atlanta Olympics last year. The 13-year-old did win a class in Toronto in early November, but has since been out in the field recovering from anaemia and a viral infection.

"I brought her in a couple of days ago," Skelton said of the mare, who did not remotely resemble an invalid yesterday. Showtime was fast and clear, defeating Jewel's Idaem (the mount of Dutchman Piet Raymakers) by a comfortable 3.37sec. Ludger Beerbaum, the German European Champion, filled third place on Sprehe Rush On.

John Whitaker had made a good start to this annual pre-Christmas meeting when winning the opening class, the Petplan Family Pairs Relay, in partnership with his 17-year-old daughter, Louise.

They defeated the sisters Michelle Lipman and Annette Lewis, with two more Whitakers (John's brother, Michael, and 14-year-old son, Robert) in third place.

"Louise won it for us," John Whitaker said after his shared victory. No one watching the contest would have disagreed with him, for the daughter (who is Britain's reigning national women's champion) flew round the course on Deep Heat.

John Whitaker still has sore ribs as the result of a fall with Virtual Village Welham in Berlin last month. He also broke the index finger of his left hand when Welham trod on it while struggling to regain his feet, but the Yorkshireman has not allowed such problems to keep him out of the saddle.

Guy Goosen, who had accepted a late invitation to ride Sagrat here in tonight's UPS Christmas Puissance, has been forced to withdraw. The horse is suffering from an infection in his left hind foot.

OLYMPIA SHOW JUMPING CHAMPIONSHIPS: Petplan Christmas Candle Stakes: 1 Virtual Village Showtime (N Skelton, GB) clear, 43.75sec; 2 Jewel's Idaem (P Raymakers, Neth) clear, 47.12; 3 Sprehe Rush On (L Beerbaum, Ger) clear, 47.27. Petplan Family Pairs Relay: 1 Virtual Village Deep Heat (L Whitaker) and Virtual Village Randi (J Whitaker) 62.70sec; 2 Inzera (M Lipman) and Gold Horizon (A Lewis) 64.23; 3 Forever Katie (R Whitaker) and Virtual Village Elton (M Whitaker) 68.42.

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