Equestrianism: Whitaker's daring captures car

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John Whitaker rode with marvellously refined daring to win his second Volvo car in eight days when he won yesterday's World Cup qualifier, the closing contest of the Paris Horse Show.

Whitaker had scored with Virtual Village Grannusch the previous Sunday in Bologna. This time he was on his Olympic mount, Welham, a wonderfully genuine 17-year-old who can be trusted to stay on any line requested by his rider.

Yesterday this involved an intrepid short cut between the fourth and fifth jump-off fences, which no one else had yet attempted. Thanks to Welham's game co-operation, Whitaker defeated the Frenchman Herve Godignon on Unic Revillon and Geoff Billington (who was celebrating his 42nd birthday) on It's Otto.

The 15 points earned for finishing in third place means that Billington has now qualified to join John and Michael Whitaker in the final for the Volvo World Cup, which takes place in Gothenburg from 30 April to 4 May. Robert Smith and Nick Skelton still need extra points, having made a single error each (with Big Time and Zalza respectively) in yesterday's contest.

But John Whitaker could do nothing wrong. Godignon thought that the short- cut through which the British rider won the competition could have been possible - "but I thought a little bit mad''. So the Frenchman went for speed between the fences, thereby overtaking Billington and unwittingly persuading Whitaker to take the "mad" option.

"I saw Herve's round on the television and I knew I had to do something special, so I decided the short-cut was worth a try," Whitaker said. There were gasps from the packed stands as he made the turn into the fifth fence and cleared it. From that point it was obvious that he would take the lead as long as Welham left the last two obstacles intact.

Ludger Beerbaum, the 1992 Olympic champion from Germany, was still to come. He attempted to follow the Whitaker route, but paid the penalty when PS Priamos refused.

Whitaker was asked to explain how he continues to get such a fine tune out of old horses, such as Grannusch, now 18, and Welham who is just a year younger. "I try to look after them and place them in the right shows, so that they don't have to jump too often," he said, with his usual line in understatement.

PARIS HORSE SHOW (Palais Omnisports Paris-Bercy): Volvo World Cup qualifier: 1 Virtual Village Welham (J Whitaker, GB) clear, 36.81sec; 2 Unic Revillon (H Godignon, Fr) clear, 38.62; 3 Virtual Village It's Otto (G Billington, GB) clear, 40.25. Standings on Western European League of World Cup: 1 P Raymakers (Neth) 72pts; 2 M Whitaker (GB) 65; 3 J Whitaker (GB) and L Beerbaum (Ger) 62. Other British: 10 G Billington 50; 18 R Smith 37; 25 N Skelton 30. Grand Prix Rolex: 1 Thor des Chaines (T Pomel, Fr) clear, 37.47; 2 Aphnee du Marais Normandie (P Delaveau, Fr) clear, 38.05; 3 San Patrignano Weihaiwej (F Sloothaak, Ger) clear, 42.00. Best British: 4 Big Time (R Smith) clear, 44.49; 6 Virtual Village Showtime (N Skelton) 4 faults, 39.44.

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