Equestrianism: Skelton underlines squad depth

Nick Skelton underlined the strength of the trio of horses he rides for John Hales when he partnered Pandur, the least experienced of the three, to win the Land Rover Grade A Jumping Competition on the second day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Nick Skelton underlined the strength of the trio of horses he rides for John Hales when he partnered Pandur, the least experienced of the three, to win the Land Rover Grade A Jumping Competition on the second day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Arko III, the star of Skelton's Warwickshire yard, was taking a break after his wonderful double clear round in the Nations Cup Super League at La Baule in France last weekend, giving nine-year-old Pandur the chance to shine.

Last to go in a six-horse jump-off, Skelton pushed on with the careful and scopey chestnut, finishing with a clear round in the fastest time.

"I like to win when I can," the ever competitive Skelton said, after defeating Michael Whitaker on his Olympic hope, Portofino, by 1.56sec. Ireland's Billy Twomey and Anastasia, winners of the main class here on Thursday, filled third place after a single jump-off error.

While Skelton, 46, looks assured of one of Britain's two individual Olympic places after his form in La Baule, Whitaker is setting out to prove Portofino's credentials. The mare did all that was asked of her yesterday, but the acid test will come at the end of the month when she competes for Britain, alongside Skelton and Arko, in the Rome Super League Show.

Skelton, who broke his neck in a fall in September 2000, has painful memories of the last Olympic Games. "I was in a hospital bed watching the opening ceremony of Sydney."

Was he thinking that he and Arko (then a six-year-old but already considered as a horse of Olympic potential) would be in contention for Athens four years later? "No, I was wondering whether I was ever going to get out of hospital," he said.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who struck a blow for grandfathers when winning the pony teams' section of the Brighton driving trials last weekend, will be back in action when the Land Rover International Driving Grand Prix moves out into Windsor Home Park for the marathon phase.

Now 82 and the oldest competitor in the eight sections of the competition which he helped to devise, the duke will be driving four of the Queen's black Fell ponies through the eight deviously complicated hazards. He was lying second after the dressage, behind Belgium's Mia Allo with a team of palomino ponies.

Royal Windsor Horse Show: Land Rover Grade A Jumping: 1 Pandur (N Skelton) clear, 45.82sec; 2 Portofino (M Whitaker) clear, 47.48; 3 Anastasia (B Twomey, Irl) 4 faults, 46.45. Royal Windsor Grade A: 1 Karina (R Whitaker) clear, 34.72; 2 Make Haste (L Pavitt) clear, 35.55; 3 Winnie Jackson (B Twomey, Irl) clear, 39.69.

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