Equestrianism: Tops takes top spot in Christmas Cracker

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The Independent Online

Jan Tops saw little to worry him after taking the lead with a good clear round on Roofs in the Christmas Cracker, yesterday's major class at the Show Jumping Championships here.

The Dutchman, who was third to go, watched only one serious challenge to his lead when Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum finished just 0.62sec behind him. Paul Barker, who is competing in his first World Cup show, was a further 3.87sec behind to be third - and the best of the British on Temple Croesus.

"The course turned out to be more difficult than I thought," Tops said, after only three other riders managed to complete clear rounds. Barker, aged 25, was naturally delighted to be one of them on Jimmy Small's eight-year-old Temple Croesus, who was formerly ridden by John Whitaker and his son, Robert. "He's never seen anything like that before," Barker said of the course that his brave young mount tackled so impressively.

Some of the more fancied contenders looked far less poised in this contest, which was judged on time in the opening round with the final placings deciding the order in which riders will jump in tomorrow's World Cup Qualifier. Both John and Robert Whitaker will go early, having incurred 16 faults apiece. Peter Charles will go first of all, having retired Lord Harris's expensive purchase, It's Magic Max, after three early errors.

Barker spent two separate years with John Whitaker; he also had a three-month stint, four years ago, with Tops, who was a team gold medallist at the 1992 Olympic Games. He has his own distinguished family connections as well: his father, David, rode for the British Olympic team in 1964 at Tokyo, where his uncle, William, was the travelling reserve.

"He has a good talent as a rider and he knows what he wants," Tops said of Barker after yesterday's prize-giving. What he wants most, of course, is eventually to emulate his father and compete in the Olympics.

Barker was selected for three Nations Cups this year with Blue Chip Quinton, achieving one clear and one four-fault round in two of them. He was also the individual winner of the Grand Prix at the Belgian Nations Cup show in Lummen. "I'll just keep plugging away," he said, when asked about future plans.

The Tops connection extended to the following contest, the Take Your Own Line, which was won by the 21-year-old Swiss rider Steve Guerdat, who has been based with the Dutchman for the last 14 months. Guerdat first gained widespread attention when he was lying in second place after this year's European Championships, in which he eventually finished sixth overall.

"He has so much experience after 20 years in the sport," Guerdat said of Tops, after victory on his first visit to Olympia. "And he has the nicest stables you can have, it's a dream to be there."

Olympia Show Jumping Championships (London): Christmas Cracker: 1 Roofs (J Tops, Neth) clear, 66.19sec; 2 Shutterfly (M Michaels-Beerbaum, Ger) clear, 66.81; 3 Temple Croesus (P Barker, GB) clear 72.06. Accenture Young Show Jumper of the Year (all GB): 1 Oscar IX (P Howard) clear, 37.01sec; 2 Continue B (G Plumley) 8 faults, 37.25; 3 Calibra II (L Williams) 4 faults in first round. Take Your Own Line: 1 Hermes Rouge (S Guerdat, Swit) 42.19sec; 2 Fresh Direct Landed Gentry (T Stockdale, GB) 43.08; 3 Giorgio (L Nieberg, Ger) 44.66.