Fitness regime pays off for Whitaker

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The Independent Online

A trim John Whitaker on his super-fit mount, Welham, added to the sense of euphoria here with a victory in Saturday's ENZA Grand Prix to add to the Nations Cup triumph by the British team a day earlier. He defeated Michel Robert, the Frenchman who was the runner-up at the last World Equestrian Games, and Ireland's European champion, Peter Charles, on Beneton.

Before coming here, Welham had nearly a month without competing, but he has been kept to a vigorous fitness routine to help him cope with the heat and humidity anticipated at this year's Olympic Games.

"We did it with Atlanta in mind, but it's already paid off," Whitaker said.

Whitaker had needed to wait for the last couple of horses before his pounds 12,000 first prize was safe. "I knew my time was beatable, but I thought I might have put enough pressure on the last two," Whitaker said. Geoff Glazzard was faster on Hello Oscar before the horse hit the last fence; Robert checked his mount coming into the last and was marginally slower.

Welham will be competing this month at St Gallen, Luxembourg and Aachen. Thanks to his victory here, he now has an automatic place in the Aachen Grand Prix without having to make the effort of competing in the qualifying classes at the German show.

Having won three contests at the meeting (as well as contributing to the Nations Cup success), Whitaker came close to another victory when he rode Jolly Boy in yesterday's ENZA Pacific Rose Speed Grand Prix. He failed by 1.35sec to match the time set by Ireland's long-time leader Robert Splaine on the eight-year-old stallion Convent Hill Diamond.