Equestrianism: Whitaker to take gamble on Casino

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The Independent Online

John Whitaker has had to withdraw his World Equestrian Games mount, Peppermill, from the London International Horse Show at Olympia, where the show-jumping classes get under way this morning.

The stallion knocked himself last weekend in Geneva when competing in the World Cup qualifier in which he had a single error to finish best of the British. It is only a minor problem, but it was deemed wiser to give him time off.

That might have dampened the spirits of the eldest member of the Whitaker clan but for an exciting new mount, the 10-year-old Casino, who will take Peppermill's place. Whitaker was riding the gelding at a show for the first time in Geneva, where he won a speed class against some top-class opposition.

"It couldn't have been much tougher, competition-wise," Whitaker said of the Swiss show, which produced three other British wins ­ one for his brother Michael, who won the Grand Prix on Insultech Portofino, and two for Robert Smith.

Michael Whitaker confirmed what is evident from this year's results: the mare Portofino, now a 12-year-old, is better than ever.

He is also pleased with the stallion Mozart des Hayettes, who had seemed more suited to outdoor arenas than the indoor circuit. With the H&M World Cup Qualifier on Sunday afternoon and the Links of London Grand Prix on Monday evening, he is glad to have both horses.

John Whitaker and his 23-year-old son, Robert, will be fancied contenders for tomorrow's Accenture Christmas Puissance, which will see the return of show jumping to prime-time television on BBC 2.

Imke Schellekens-Bartels, of the Netherlands, produced a lovely freestyle to music test in last night's Dressage World Cup qualifier, defeating Germany's Isabell Werth. Laura Bechtolsheimer finished best of the Britons in sixth.