Equestrianism: Newcomer Davenport joins veterans

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The Independent Online

Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton, who were team-mates on six consecutive European Show Jumping Championships between 1985 and 1995, join forces again next week for another crack at the same title at Donaue-schingen in Germany.

They will be joined by Robert Smith, who was on the 1997 team, and Richard Davenport, who will be competing in his first championships at senior level. As well as aiming for medals, the quartet will be looking to secure one of the last three qualifying places for next year's Olympic Games.

Among their collections of assorted medals, both Whitaker and Skelton have three team golds and three team silvers from those successive European contests during the halcyon days of British show jumping.

Both are introducing new horses to the championships. Whitaker will be on Fleur, a 12-year-old mare with whom he was reunited just over three weeks ago after a gap of four years. Skelton will ride the nine-year-old stallion, Arko III, who was the main reason for him being lured out of retirement at the start of last year.

Arko jumped a double clear round for the victorious British team in the Samsung Super League Nations Cup at Hickstead last month. Robert Smith, the 42-year-old son of Harvey Smith, did the same last week with Mr Springfield for the team that finished a close second in the equivalent contest in Dublin. These two results are making riders from other nations take note of the rising fortunes of the British team.

While Whitaker, Skelton and Smith are all in their forties, Davenport is a mere 23. He has been gaining valuable experience from a base in the Netherlands with Jan Tops.

He also has a wonderful horse in Martin Dawes' Luc, formerly ridden for France by Michel Robert, who had the 2004 Olympic Games as the gelding's goal until the owner decided to sell him.

Luc looked enormously impressive at the Hickstead Nations Cup with just a single error in his two rounds.

Scott Smith, who had one fence down in each round of the same competition, will travel to Germany as reserve.

GREAT BRITAIN TEAM FOR EUROPEAN SHOW JUMPING CHAMPIONSHIPS (Donaueschingen, Germany, 20-24 August): R Davenport (Luc or Grand Marnier), N Skelton (Arko III or Russel), R Smith (Mr Springfield or Gerry Maguire), M Whitaker (Fleur Z or Abrisca). Travelling reserve: S Smith (Cabri d'Elle or Landwind 19).

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