Equestrianism: Whitaker pride intact

JOHN WHITAKER restored British pride with a marvellous victory in last night's second leg of the World Cup final on Virtual Village Heyman, whose lightning clear round in the jump-off left some of the best horses in the world chasing his time in vain.

It was characteristic of Whitaker, who had a disappointing start to the contest with two mistakes on Grannusch on Thursday evening, to refuse to throw in the towel when he reappeared last night with Heyman. His chances of winning his third final are still remote, but at least he has advanced from 23rd to 13th - and displayed his remarkable talent in the process.

Rodrigo Pessoa, the winner of Thursday's leg and defending the World Cup which he won last year in Helsinki, wisely declined to try catching Whitaker last night. The Brazilian retains the overall lead after finishing fourth behind the Briton - but, despite his relatively deliberate round on Gandini Baloubet du Rouet, he did have one worrying moment last night.

Pessoa was lucky to escape without faults at the second last jump-off obstacle, where the horse momentarily dropped a hindleg between two rails of this spread fence. "My horse anticipated the turn, but he has plenty of scope and he saved me on this occasion," Pessoa said of the stallion, with whom he won the World Cup last year.

Thirteen horses jumped clear initially last night and John Whitaker, who was third into the jump-off, ensured a thrilling contest with his sparkling performance on Heyman. "He's very highly-strung, but he's maturing all the time," Whitaker said of the ten-year-old. "Tonight was probably the best he's ever jumped."

Nona Garson, of the United States, who had appeared to go like the wind on Rhythmical, finished just behind Whitaker, with Peter Charles a close third for Ireland on Traxdata Nustria. But it was another Irishman - Trevor Coyle, who is competing in this annual contest for the first time - who advanced into second place overall.

Coyle - who had been overnight sixth on the grey stallion, Cruising - moved up after finishing seventh last night.

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