EQUESTRIANISM: Smith finds `nightmare' turns out for the best

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The Independent Online
ROBERT SMITH jumped a swift clear round on his "nightmare" ride, Senator For the Best, to win yesterday's Christmas Cracker (the pre-qualifier for today's World Cup contest) at the Olympia Show Jumping Championships.

Unlike some of his opponents, who had debated whether to regard qualification as more important than victory yesterday, Smith had typically decided he would go all-out to try to win the contest. "We should have won the pre-qualifier at Millstreet in Ireland, where we were four seconds faster than anyone else but just took a brick out of the wall," he said.

Failure to qualify for the Irish World Cup contest did not persuade him that caution was the better part of valour. With a first prize of pounds 5,400 on offer, Smith went for broke and this time won with a comfortable 3.1sec in hand, defeating Germany's Carsten-Otto Nagel, on L'Eperon, and the Dutchman Jos Lansink, on Nissan Carthago.

Smith, who acquired For the Best about three years ago, regards his winning mount as "a nightmare" because the 13-year-old is "half uncontrollable most of the time". Smith rates the gelding, bought in California "because he was cheap" as probably the most difficult ride he has ever had. For the Best also has "an unbelievable jump" as he proved yesterday when landing too far into the double at fence nine and ballooning over the second element without touching the top rail.

Di Lampard (third on Abbervail Dream) and Geoff Billington (fifth on Virtual Village It's Otto) had two of the other five faultless performances in this contest, which was judged on time in the opening round. They are among the five British qualifiers for this afternoon's contest, which will also include Andrew Davies on Captain Wellington and John Whitaker on Virtual Village Welham.

Whitaker, who quickened after Welham made the first of two errors, sneaked through with the fastest eight-fault round in 17th place, but Tim Stockdale, on Traxdata Wiston Bridget, (23rd) and Michael Whitaker, on Prince of Wales, (25th) failed to make the top 20 after incurring 12 faults.

Pippa Funnell, the individual gold medallist and a member of the victorious British team at this year's European Three-day Event Championships, was the expected winner of the British Equestrian Writers' Association trophy as Personality of the Year. Lee Williams, a 15-year-old show jumper from Wales, won the young riders' award, having achieved the best British score for the winning British team at this year's Junior European Show Jumping Championships.

John Whitaker's 16-year-old son, Robert - also a member of the victorious junior team - rode the German-bred Lord Liberty to take yesterday's Young Show Jumper of the Year title, just defeating Roger McRea, on Tannaghill, and Williams, on Catherston Jetstream.

Robert is looking increasingly accomplished himself, thanks to help from his father and his uncle (Michael) with his jumping, as well as training on the flat with Lars Sederholm.

Results, Digest, page 25