Equestrianism: Whitaker targets King's Cup reunion with Fleur

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The Independent Online

Michael Whitaker's reunion with Fleur, a mare he last rode in 1999, will have heartened the British team manager, Derek Ricketts, as the Royal International Horse Show gets under way with a day of national classes at Hickstead this morning before the four days of international jumping commence tomorrow.

Whitaker is riding Fleur at Hickstead, but she will not be his mount in Friday's Super League Nations Cup. "It will be my first show with her for four years, so it's a bit too soon for that," Whitaker said, "but, if she's going well, I may decide to ride her in the King's Cup on Sunday."

He already had a high opinion of the mare when the Gillespie brothers sold her to the United States at the end of 1999 and, though he still has to build up a partnership with her again, Fleur is now regarded as his main prospect for a place in next month's European Championships at Donaueschingen in Germany.

Whitaker takes over the ride from Ireland's Trevor Coyle, who won a class on Fleur at Eindhoven this year and had a single error with her in the Grand Prix of Aachen. Though he agrees that losing the ride is tough on Coyle, Ricketts is not shedding any tears on behalf of the Irish whose Hickstead team will include two former British horses: It's Magic Max, now partnered by Peter Charles, and Billy Twomey's mount, Luidam.

The Irish are likely to have the strongest team when the fifth of this year's eight Super League contests is decided on Friday, when they will be attempting to take over the lead from the French who are half a point ahead.

Britain, now lying fourth, cannot overtake the French or Irish, but they could go ahead of the Germans, who are not sending their top team to Hickstead.

The British quartet for Friday's contest will be selected from the nominated squad of five: Richard Davenport, Nick Skelton, Robert Smith, Scott Smith and Michael Whitaker. All of them are aiming for the European Championships, for which Skelton and Robert Smith already appear to have secure places as long as their horses have no setbacks.

Skelton, who retired after breaking the top vertebrae in his neck in 2000, will be riding the impressive nine-year-old bay stallion, Arko III, with whom he jumped three clear rounds to finish third in the Rome Grand Prix earlier this year.