Equestrianism: Skelton shows old flair and judgement in narrow victory

Nick Skelton delighted last night's capacity audience at the Show Jumping Championships when he rode the nine-year-old stallion Arko III to a wonderfully polished clear round and a popular victory in the British Eurosport Christmas Stakes.

Skelton, who returned to the sport last year after breaking his neck, had the advantage of going last in the seven-horse jump-off. Knowing exactly what was required, he produced all his old flair to defeat Steve Guerdat, of Switzerland, by a finely judged 1.2sec.

Tim Stockdale made the best possible use of his late invitation to the event when he rode Fresh Direct Glenwood Springs to win the Martin Collins Seconds Added Stakes during yesterday's opening session. Maria Gretgzer, of Sweden, would have beaten him, but for incurring a four-second penalty when Ricarda lowered one fence to finish in second place.

Stockdale received his late call to Olympia 12 days ago. "I would have been distraught if I hadn't got here, but I always thought I would make it," Stockdale said. His chance came, as he had anticipated, when a couple of overseas riders dropped out.

Had he attempted all the short cuts over the twisty course, he reckoned he would simply confuse the horse. So, after three short turns over the early part of the course he took a more direct route on Glenwood Springs and was rewarded with a winning clear round. The horse, a speed specialist, has won around £110,000 since Stockdale took over the ride five years ago - when his prize-money had amounted to a modest £275. The British rider will rely on Jerome for Sunday's World Cup Qualifier, which is the major contest of the meeting.

While Pippa Funnell was collecting yet another award - the British Equestrian Writers' Association Personality of the Year - her husband, William, rode Cortaflex Machiavelli to win the Welcome Speed Stakes.

Richard Davenport failed to qualify for the show, but he was here to talk about being chosen to ride for Team Sony Ericsson. He joins Markus Fuchs, of Switzerland, Marcus Ehning (Germany), Maria Gretzer (Sweden) and Jerry Smit (Italy) and is the first Briton to be part of the team. "They're a good bunch of people and very professional," he said. "We'll be helping each other." At 23, he is the youngest rider in the team.

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