Equestrianism: Whitakers keep team selection in the family for Europe team

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The Independent Online

Three members of the Whitaker family - brothers John and Michael plus their 19-year-old niece, Ellen - are on the British squad of five riders who were named yesterday for the European Show Jumping Championships to be held at the San Patrignano drug rehabilitation centre near Rimini, Italy, from 21 to 24 July.

"If someone had told me at the beginning of this year that I would be going to the Europeans, I never would have believed them," Ellen Whitaker said. She and her two uncles will be joined by Nick Skelton and William Funnell.

Michael Whitaker on Portofino, the runners-up in this year's World Cup Final and winners of the St Gallen Grand Prix, were obvious choices. They also produced a double clear round for Britain's winning team in the Rome Super League Nations Cup, as did Skelton on Arko III. Ellen Whitaker on Locarno in La Baule, and Funnell on Cortaflex Mondriaan in St Gallen, also achieved double clears in the Super League, giving the selectors the most exciting choice they had had for years.

Derek Ricketts, the Great Britain team manager, said yesterday: "We've got a really good championship squad. Our win in Rome against top-class opposition was very satisfying, it showed we are capable of winning anything."

He is now left with the task of choosing four out of the five riders for the team, leaving the remaining member of the squad to contest the competitions for the fifth riders from each country.

John Whitaker's good recent form with the stallion Exploit du Roulard has also been a great source of encouragement. He has a wealth of experience, having competed in four Olympic Games and nine European Championships, but he has been without a top-class mount since he rode at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. His hopes of making the team were only recently rekindled when, after winning the Lisbon Grand Prix, Ricketts suggested that he should compete on Britain's Super League team in Rotterdam, where he finished third in the Grand Prix on Sunday.

He describes Exploit du Roulard as difficult "because he's quite strong and sharp", but also as capable of jumping anything.