Equestrianism: Whitaker's veteran victorious

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The Independent Online
FOR A second successive year, Britain's John Whitaker took the World Cup qualifier here yesterday. Riding the evergreen Virtual Village Welham this time, they performed magnificently to a full house.

Nine of the 20 starters jumped clear in the first round and, with Whitaker drawn first to jump off, it looked all against him. Cool as ever and accurate to a millimetre, he had charted the perfect route, and Welham belied his 19 years with apparently minimal effort, finishing clear again in 36.79 seconds following some superb turns.

Whitaker then suffered several nerve-wracking minutes as top-class rivals chased his time and tried to leave the obstacles standing. Only Germany's Lars Nieberg went faster, but at the expense of a pole, while only three others were able to jump clear.

Holland's Carrie Huis In't Veld, riding her neat and careful Iceberg, and Switzerland's Beat Maendli on the leggy Pozitano came closest. Despite their contrasting styles they finished on identical times of 37.02sec ahead of Belgium's Ludo Philippaerts with RBG Opus Sept.

Britain's Geoff Billington, with Virtual Village It's Otto, and Robert Smith, riding Senator For The Best, both made the jump-off, but Otto put in a quick stop after passing the exit for a disappointing three faults, while Smith's mount lowered two poles.

For Whitaker, the 20 points won in this, the 22nd FEI World Cup were his first in the annual series, shooting him from nowhere into 23rd position. In two previous attempts in Berlin and Amsterdam, he failed to qualify, but there are seven more preliminary rounds before the final in Las Vegas in April.

"The course suited him," Whitaker said, modestly, of Welham, who has had a superb season winning three Grands Prix from just eight outings. They were lucky to take part at all, after two fences down in Friday's qualifying contest, in which Whitaker's brother Michael failed to get through.

Germany's Carsten-Otto Nagel, 10th yesterday, remains on top of the Western European league standings with 48 points while In't Veld has risen from ninth to second. Whitaker's late challenge gives British showjumping a boost but he will need to follow up.