Equestrianism: Whitaker takes short route to pip brother

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The Independent Online
John Whitaker made a splendid start to the Olympia Show Jumping Championships when he won two competitions yesterday, including last night's Christmas Tree Stakes with a wonderfully daring round on Virtual Village Welham.

Having taken the shortest possible route (notably at the second last fence where he almost shaved the wing) Whitaker's time looked - and proved - unbeatable. His younger brother, Michael, came closest when finishing 0.07sec slower on Twostep to be runner-up, with Ireland's Peter Charles third on Taime.

John Whitaker still has sore ribs as the result of a fall with 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.

He had already won the opening class, the Petplan Family Pairs Relay, in partnership with his 17-year-old daughter, Louise. No one watching the contest would have disagreed with Whitaker when he said "Louise won it for us" - for the daughter (who is Britain's reigning national women's champion) flew faultlessly round the course on Deep Heat.

Nick Skelton had put the turmoil of moving house behind him when he rode a whirlwind clear round on Virtual Village Showtime to win the afternoon's Petplan Christmas Candle Stakes.

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 made a recent move 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 3.37sec.

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. Christmas Tree Stakes: 1 Virtual Village Welham (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 29.99secs; 2 Virtual Village Twostep (M Whitaker, GB) clear, 30.06; 3 Taime (P Charles, Irl) clear, 30.86. Christmas Stocking Stakes: 1 Bernadotte (P Delaveau, Fr) 42.12secs; 2 Trudo Jannique (L Philippaerts, Bel) 42.27; 3 BB Comtessa (W Melliger, Swit) 43.31.

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