Billington closes on place in final

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The Independent Online

Geoff Billington's quest for a place in next month's final of the World Cup for show jumping seemed to have been realised here yesterday, despite an early mistake on Virtual Village It's Otto in the World Cup qualifier.

That single error at the third fence ("It was the easiest one on the course," Billington said) seemed to have spoilt the Briton's chances. However, the tough course also took its toll on his rivals. With only five clear rounds, Billington finished equal sixth and earned a helpful nine points which lifted him from 21st to 16th place on the Western European League.

Billington is not quite home and dry, since there is one more qualifier to come at Gothenburg in two weeks' time before it is known which 18 riders from this league are entitled to compete in the Las Vegas final next month. John Whitaker is certainly through for Britain and Billington has probably done enough to join him. But Robert Smith needs to gain some more points in Gothenburg to secure his place.

Otto Becker, the German victor in yesterday's World Cup contest on Dobel's Cento, said that the big, technical course was the toughest he has encountered during the current series. He was not hurrying unduly when he went clear in the jump-off to defeat Beat Mandli, of Switzerland, on Pozitano. Helena Weinberg, the British-born German who finished third, would have beaten them both but for a mistake at the second jump-off fence on the wonderfully nippy grey Silwa Little Gun.

John Whitaker, who had failed to get beyond the World Cup "pre-qualifier" here, opted to ride Steps Helsinki in Saturday night's puissance. The10-year-old stallion, who will be his mount in Las Vegas, jumped three clear rounds before nudging a brick out of the 7ft 2in wall in the third jump-off to finish in third place.

As expected, Anky van Grunsven rode Gestion Bonfire to win the World Cup final for dressage for the fifth time in six years. Richard Davison, who was Britain's sole representative, finished a creditable seventh on Hiscox Askari.

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