Equestrianism: Weinberg sets standard to dazzle on homecoming

Helena Weinberg took the plum prize of £18,500 when she won yesterday's Sony Ericsson World Cup Qualifier on nine-year-old Kasting Horses Gavi.

In the process, Weinberg, who rode for Britain until switching to her husband's German nationality in 1987, defeated some of the leading men in the sport: Markus Ehning, also representing Germany and the winner of this year's World Cup final, Ludo Philippaerts from Belgium, and Michael Whitaker, who was the best of the British.

Whitaker, the only Briton through to the 13-horse jump-off, had the capacity crowd roaring their approval when he completed a swift clear round on the nine-year-old mare, Portofino. "I was quite early to go and I thought I'd probably be beaten, but I didn't think I'd be pushed down to fourth," Whitaker said. He was nevertheless delighted with the mare, who joined his string in July and looks set to become his top mount next year.

Though the spectators were rooting for the home rider, they could not fail to appreciate some wonderful rounds that followed in one of the best contests held here. Philippaerts, riding the grey stallion, Parco, had overtaken Whitaker before Weinberg set the place alight with some audacious turns.

"My horse is naturally quite fast and he's very cool in difficult situations, I knew he wouldn't panic," Weinberg said of the bay stallion. "He's probably the best horse I've ever had."

Weinberg had an anxious time, however, as she watched Ehning and the magnificent 17-year-old For Pleasure attempt to catch her time, only to fail by 0.28sec.

"For Pleasure can beat everyone, his problem today was me. I was too slow over the first two fences," Ehning said after finishing second. He plans next year to carry on riding the chestnut stallion because For Pleasure looks and feels much younger than his years.

Weinberg - whose brother, Bruce Dickinson, is lead singer with the rock group Iron Maiden - became the first woman to win this class since Veronique Whitaker triumphed in 1991. She has won the Grand Prix here before, but this was her first success in the World Cup class. The absent Marco Kutscher retains the lead for Germany on the Western European League of the World Cup, with Weinberg and Whitaker moving up into second and third places.

There was disappointment when two of Britain's leading contenders for yesterday's big class - Robert Smith on Marius Claudius and Nick Skelton on Arko III - dropped out with single errors in the opening round to be equal 14th. Four other Britons shared the same place: Paul Barker on Temple Croesus and Guy Williams on Loro Piana, who were competing in their first World Cup class, and Robert Whitaker on Qualite and William Funnell on Cortaflex Mondriaan.

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