Equestrianism: Whitakers left facing partnership dilemma

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Richard Davenport, who is now the highest placed British rider on World Cup points, has been given a last-minute invitation to compete at the Olympia Show Jumping Championships, which host Britain's only World Cup qualifier. Invitations were extended to both Davenport and Corinne Collins after Willi Melliger, one of the Swiss riders, pulled out. They will each be taking just one horse to the show, which begins its five-day run this morning.

The 21-year-old Davenport has naturally elected to ride Martin Dawes' Grand Marnier, with whom he gained his 24 World Cup points when finishing second in Helsinki and equal sixth in Verona. His invitation to the Italian show also came at the eleventh hour, after Michael Whitaker and Scott Smith had withdrawn.

This time Whitaker will be the favourite among the British riders hoping to contest Saturday afternoon's Ericsson World Cup Qualifier as well as Sunday evening's Grand Prix. First they have to get through the World Cup pre-qualifier on Friday, from which the top 18 go through to the big Saturday contest.

This leaves a teasing dilemma for Whitaker, who would like to save Handel II for the weekend and ride Prince of Wales in the pre-qualifier. He would also like to be sure of a place in Saturday's line-up and he knows that Anne Bedford's Handel, who has been in tremendous form in recent weeks, represents a better chance. The stallion won the Masters and the Grand Prix in Stuttgart last month (both of which carried the top prize of a Mercedes car) as well as the Geneva Grand Prix 10 days ago.

While Michael Whitaker begins chasing World Cup points in earnest, having failed to collect a single one so far this winter season, his elder brother, John, will be concentrating on younger horses. John has given up the ride on his Olympic mount, Calvaro. "He's done a good job for me over one and a half years, but I thought it was time to move on and concentrate on the up-and-coming horses," he said.

Two of these, seven-year-old Francesco di Giorgio and nine-year-old Quinten who is by the famous stallion Darco, will be among his Olympia mounts. Francesco, who was second in the Düsseldorf Masters and fourth in the Hanover Audi Championship, is "basically very careful and has a lot of scope", while Quinten is "more experienced and easier to ride". Whitaker will "take it day by day" before deciding which of the two to ride in the major classes.

As always, the enormously popular London show has attracted a formidable line-up from overseas. Participants include the Olympic champion, Jeroen Dubbeldam, of the Netherlands, Switzerland's Markus Fuchs who is holder of the World Cup, plus two former world champions, Eric Navet from France and Franke Sloothaak from Germany.

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