Equestrianism: Whitaker wins amid selection dilemma

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL WHITAKER rode Virtual Village Ashley to win the Derby Tankard on the opening day of the British Jumping Derby meeting but, for once, it was the lower placings which were of greater significance.

The contest incorporated the last of four international team trials and Di Lampard, who jumped the only other clear opening round to finish second on Abbervail Dream, has now earned a place on the squad of five for the World Equestrian Games in Rome this October.

James Fisher had already qualified on Renville. Mark Armstrong, now lying third on the lovely mare, Primma, will have to wait until next Friday to know whether he is through as well. Nick Skelton could overtake Armstrong with David Broome's Hopes are High if the horse has no more than one jumping error in the Nations Cup at Gijon on 28 August. It was not a scenario to please the selectors. Unless Skelton achieves the required points in Gijon, they are faced with the prospect of leaving two of their four Olympic riders (the Whitaker brothers, Skelton and Geoff Billington) out of the team.

Billington, who was so confident of selection with It's Otto that he did not bother to jump in the trials, could find himself more vulnerable than he anticipated since Skelton (with Hopes are High) and John Whitaker (Heyman) showed wonderful form in Dublin and Aachen.

Whitaker and Heyman had seemed likely to finish among the top three on trials points yesterday until the horse hit the last two elements of the final fence on a demanding course. He is now a point behind Armstrong in fourth place - with his brother, Michael, in seventh.

Heyman had been considered John Whitaker's only possible mount for Sunday's British Jumping Derby. But, after "serious family discussions", he is now considering riding 21-year-old Gammon, normally partnered by his daughter, Louise.

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