EQUESTRIANISM: Virtual Village bounces back

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The Independent Online
JOHN WHITAKER and Virtual Village Welham, his Olympic mount, made a triumphant return to international showjumping when winning yesterday's Woodpecker Shavings Golden Jubilee Trophy on the second day of The Horse of the Year Show.

It was the 18-year-old's first serious contest since he pulled a tendon in his off foreleg in his last big competition (also a winning one) at Olympia last December. Though sound within a couple of weeks, there was swelling and heat in the leg to indicate that the injury would take time to heal.

Whitaker had not been intent on victory when he rode into the arena yesterday. "I suppose I got a bit carried away, but I didn't go crazy fast," he said. "It was really won by doing some nice turns." In this case "nice" meant shaving corners to the bone while maintaining a lovely rhythm on the horse with whom Whitaker has established such a wonderful rapport. In the process, he defeated Roelof Bril, the Dutch- man who filled second and third places with Calero and Carpe Diem.

Whitaker will be taking Keeley Durham's Welham to the German Masters in Bremen next week, while Virtual Village Heyman (his mount for the World Equestrian Games) travels to Rome, where he will be hacked out by his groom.

The Whitaker family continued in fine form when John's younger brother, Michael, rode Twostep to win the Grandstand Media Cup, in which Bril was once again runner-up.

Twostep, whose career winnings of pounds 600,000 include pounds 110,000 for victory in the 1994 Calgary Grand Prix, was found to have back problems after his disappointing performances at the Atlanta Olympics. Whitaker says that he has never fully recovered.

Michael Whitaker completed a clean sweep for his family with a victorious whirlwind clear round in last night's Daewoo Championship on Virtual Village Ashley. James Fisher took up the challenge on Traxdata Renville but failed by 0.65sec to catch the winner.

Asha Narsapur made a round trip of nearly 18 hours south from Dundee to ride in one competition, the Junior Newcomers' Championship, which she won on a five-year-old pony mare, Edenside Sunshine.

Results, Digest, page 29