Equestrianism: Skelton's victory on Arko III brings hope of British revival

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The Independent Online

Nick Skelton became the first British winner of the Rome Grand Prix since Malcolm Pyrah triumphed here 31 years ago. For good measure Michael Whitaker filled the runner-up place with the only other double clear round of a contest that was held under cloudless blue skies, bringing renewed hopes that a long-awaited British revival had begun.

Skelton was riding the fantastic Arko III whose owner, John Hales, had received an award here on Friday in recognition of his stallion being the leading show jumping horse on the world rankings for the second year running.

His clear round was smart enough to put pressure on those who followed, since it was fast but far from unbeatable.

Whitaker, riding the classy 10-year-old stallion, Mozart des Hayettes, then came within a second of catching his compatriot to slot into second place.

The two Britons had a fraught time watching the remaining riders - in particular the last three, who all made errors when recording faster times. Franke Sloothaak seemed to have the first prize until galloping Legurio into the final wall where the horse removed one top brick.

"It's taken me 25 years to win this class," Skelton said. "You could have waited for 26," quipped Whitaker, who was also eager to add a first Rome Grand Prix victory to his curriculum vitae.

Whitaker was nevertheless delighted. He had ridden Mozart in this contest because Derek Ricketts, performance manager of the British team, had wanted to see the horse jump in a grand prix before picking him for a Nations Cup.

Yesterday's two courses were by far the biggest that Mozart has ever tackled. Having risen to the occasion with such polished gusto, the desired place could be on offer pretty soon.