Equestrianism: Smith to ride in-form trio of mounts at Olympia

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The Independent Online

Robert Smith will be eager to repeat last year's victory when he rides Marius Claudius in the World Cup Qualifier, the main contest of the Olympia Show Jumping Championships which begin their five-day run today. Having moved from its traditional Saturday slot, the class will now be shown live on BBC television on Sunday afternoon.

Smith was in fantastic form at the recent Belfast International, where he was the leading rider of the show with two victories on Marius Claudius, another two on Kalusha and four runner-up placings - three with Gerry Maguire. He will have the same trio of mounts at the London show, where the nine-year-old Marius Claudius will be aimed at the major classes and the quest for World Cup points, which got off to a flying start when the stallion won the Oslo qualifier in October.

"We'll be chasing a lot of things," Smith said, referring also to the points needed to keep him in the top 10 of the world rankings. He and Michael Whitaker, 10th and 11th respectively, are in line to give Britain two individual places for next year's Olympic Games in Athens if they stay ahead of Denmark's Thomas Velin at the end of April.

That might not sound too difficult asVelin was 51st in the last rankings but the 28-year-old Dane, who is giving his horses a deserved rest, may look more threatening when the next list is published in early January. In three weeks he won four events on Equest Carnute, including the Berlin and Geneva qualifiers.

But Whitaker, now fifth - and the best of the British - in the Western European League of the World Cup, is chasing points just as determinedly. He has yet to decide which of two mares, Fleur and Portofino, he will ride on Sunday. "They're totally different," he said of the pair who moved into his Nottinghamshire yard this year. "Portofino's a lot easier to ride. Fleur always looks angry, but she gets the job done."

Thirteen British riders - among them Whitaker's brother, John, and nephew, Robert - will be joined by 25 representing 12 other countries. The visitors include the German winners of the last two World Cup finals, Otto Becker and Markus Ehning, and Peter Wylde, of the United States, who was the individual bronze medallist at the 2002 World Games.

Olympia regularly attracts capacity crowds for this annual pre-Christmas fixture, with its mixture of top-class international show jumping and popular family entertainment. This year, for the first time in its 32-year history, all seats have been sold before it has started.