Equestrianism: Smith's cure for Hanauer

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The Independent Online
Robert Smith had to be at his best on Tees Hanauer to defeat a top-class field in the Volvo World Cup (preliminary round) at Olympia yesterday.

Over a massive course designed by Finland's Aki Ylanne and described by David Broome as "complicated, with awkward distances and a lot of control required", eight jumped clear in the first round. Among those to disappoint were Britain's John Whitaker and Geoff Billington on their Olympic horses Virtual Village Welham and It's Otto, and the world champion Franke Sloothark of Germany on the grey stallion Fern Patrignano Corrado. They all made single mistakes.

Michael Whitaker kept British hopes alive when the young Virtual Village Ashley recorded a clear round, and he was joined by his compatriots Nick Skelton on Virtual Village Dollar Girl and Smith on Tees Hanauer. For Ireland, the European champion Peter Charles and La Ina went clear, as did Belgium's Ludo Philippaerts on Trudo King Darco, Germany's Holger Wulschner on Prinz Oldenburg, the multiple Olympic gold medallist Ludger Beerbaum with PS Priamos, and the only woman rider in the class, the ex- British Lesley McNaught-Mandli, now representing Switzerland, on Dulf.

Broome, asked beforehand to predict the winner, named six of the eight who went clear and said of Smith, a 16-1 chance with the bookmakers: "He'd never want to give up without a fight."Wulschner, who was drawn first, set a high standard, going clear in 36.78 seconds, which was bettered by Michael Whitaker, but Philippaerts knocked off almost two seconds with 34.36sec. "My horse has to jump fast," he said. "It's the only way. If he's clear he usually wins." But not this time.

Smith was the only rider to take the "long" route to the third obstacle, the upright poles, which had caught out Beerbaum, unusually, and Peter Charles, who both refused after misjudging the tight turn. "That turn was never on for us," said Smith, who was winning his first World Cup qualifier and a coveted Volvo car.

Hanauer's long stride is better suited to fast galloping than sharp turns, and those tactics paid off. The horse, now 16, was formerly ridden by Michael Whitaker, and before that was a successful dressage horse. Smith has ridden Hanauer for four years and nursed him back after a suspensory ligament injury four months ago threatened the horse's career. Hanauer has had his best season this year, winning three grand prix events.

Beerbaum made amends by winning the Vink-sponsored Top Score on board his great mare Sprehe Ratina Z. They finished 10 points clear of John Whitaker on Virtual Village Randi.