Equestrianism: Whitakers aim for family success

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The Independent Online

The Whitaker family will be out in force today when the first international classes at the Horse of the Year Show get under way at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre.

John Whitaker, his brother Michael, son Robert and niece Ellen will be strong contenders in the international classes. Three younger Whitakers - Ellen's brother Joe and two of her cousins, William and George - will be competing in national finals.

Michael Whitaker will be riding the in-form mare Insultech Portofino, whose last competition resulted in victory against high-class opposition when she won the Longines Grand Prix in Barcelona last month. He will also be riding nine-year-old Leonardo, who is still on a learning curve at this level, and his speed horse, Merva.

Ellen Whitaker had a lean start to the year while a dispute over the ownership of her top horse, Locarno, dragged on. Now reunited with the stallion, she has been given a wild card to compete and will be hoping to go one better than last year when she was defeated by Robert Maguire in a cracking closing contest for the Leading Show Jumper of the Year title.

Maguire will be back in Birmingham to defend his title. A repeat victory would be all the sweeter now that he is about to begin a three-month suspension for which Maguire is feeling particularly hard done by. The ban was imposed after a positive dope test on Two Mills Showtime at the end of October last year.