Equestrianism: Whitaker's best not enough to hold off European challenge

Robert Whitaker, riding Ublesco, came closest, going clear in 44.38 seconds. But they were outspeeded, first by the Belgian Philippe le Jeune with King Chem, and then by Wout-jan van der Schans on Nouvelle, who went round to win in 42.47secs.

"This was her best result ever," said Van der Schans, 44, who represented Holland in both young rider and senior three-day event teams at European and world championships in the 1980s. He is now a regular at Hickstead, and will decide early today whether to contest the King George V Gold Cup with Nouvelle this afternoon.

"Only if the rain holds off," he said. The main arena has been riding deep after watering and then rain, and this comparatively inexperienced 10-year-old mare would need good conditions.

The Swiss team rider Beat Mandli, on Ideo du Thot, and 20-year-old Ellen Whitaker with Ak Kanselier, also jumped clear again to finish fourth and fifth ahead of four-faulters Florian Angot, with Jaffna de Semilly, and Tim Gredley of Britain's young rider team, on Omelli.

It was good to see three of the most talented younger riders coming to the fore after the disappointment of the recent European Championships in Italy where the team of John and Michael Whitaker, William Funnell and Nick Skelton averaged 45 years of age.

Robert Whitaker, 22, was putting his own performance on Friday behind him when his team horse Nicolette II collected 13 and 12 faults in the two rounds of the Nations' Cup. He hopes for better results in Dublin next week and also with the eight-year-old stallion Ublesco, who has graduated from placing fifth in last year's Foxhunter final to a top class prospect.

"He's not that fast," he said, "but I was going for it today as I wanted to win. He's really a grand prix horse." His cousin, Ellen, bitterly disappointed to miss her place on the European team when her best horse, Locarno, suddenly contracted a fever, was thrilled with the double clear achieved with Kanselier.

"He's supposed to be on holiday and is not really fit yet," she said, "but he's feeling brilliant." With suitable horsepower these are three riders who should provide a brighter future for British show-jumping.