Equestrianism: Babington saves a stride and clinches Grand Prix
Kevin Babington provided the second consecutive Irish triumph in the Grand Prix at the La Baule Super League show when he rode Carling King to a split-second victory at the French seaside resort yesterday.
Billy Twomey had won here last year on Luidam, but the crowds were hoping for a home victory yesterday after Michel Robert's whirlwind clear round on Galet d'Auzay. Babington, though, was watching Robert's round from the back of his 13-year-old mount when he decided that he could probably take one stride out to the last fence. In doing so, he must have saved more than the 0.35 sec by which he won.
"I still thought somebody would catch me," Babington said. He regarded Ludger Beerbaum as a major threat, but the German rider was 0.97 sec slower on Gold Fever to finish fourth, a whisker behind Wim Schroder of the Netherlands on Eurocommerce Berlin.
Michael Whitaker, the only Briton to jump clear first time, on Fleur, had a disappointing eight faults in the second round and finished 15th. Nick Skelton had one first-round error with Arko III, but the stallion would have lost few of the admirers he gained after his double clear in the Nations Cup on Friday. Though he has not yet been named for one of Britain's two individual Olympic places, Arko's ticket looks safe. The 10-year-old is unlikely to be risked again if the ground is bad at the next two Super League shows, in Rome and Lucerne.
Robert Smith, who is eager to claim an Olympic place, erred at the first and fifth fences with Mr Springfield. "They were two daft ones to have," he said, of those relatively straightforward obstacles. Scott Smith also erred twice with Cabri d'Elle.
For Derek Ricketts, the manager of the British team, the Olympic puzzle is only just beginning to unravel. "Arko was outstanding," he said. There were conflicting views of Olaf Petersen's Grand Prix course. Ricketts was happy with it; Ireland's chef d'equipe, Tommy Wade, was not - despite the Irish victory. "There was too much pulling, dragging and turning," he said.
Wade was obviously pleased with Babington (who also had two Grand Prix successes in Florida this year) and with Jessica Kurten's performance on Quibell, who would have won but for having the last fence down in the second round. "Those two are definitely on the Olympic team unless they fall out of bed between now and then," he said.
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