Skelton holds off Whitaker's early challenge

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The Independent Online

Nick Skelton and nine-year-old Jalisco, one of the horses sent to him following the death of Italian rider Guido Dominici last year, gained their eighth victory together when winning yesterday's Samsung Gentlemen's Jumping Championship on the third day of the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

The top prize was not, however, in Skelton's safe keeping until 17-year-old Robert Whitaker, riding in senior classes here for the first time, made a single error going into the final double on Virtual Village Randi when well ahead on the clock.

Skelton won five contests with Jalisco on the Spanish Sunshine Tour this year and another two at the Leicester County Show. But the horse is not regarded as a candidate for this year's Olympic Games, so Skelton's dwindling chance of making the team for Sydney still rests with Hopes are High, who has been suffering from foot problems.

Skelton's partnership with Jalisco was interrupted last November when the rider broke his collarbone in a fall. But yesterday, over one of the biggest courses that they have tackled together, they looked to have established an effective partnership when jumping a swift clear round. Skelton had less than a second in hand when defeating David McPherson of South Africa on Baghera and John Popely on Blushing Groom.

Whitaker took a slightly different route to the rest of the field on the advice of his father, John, who believed it would be better to take a right-handed circle into the fifth jump-off fence, whereas the others had all approached on a left rein. It would have worked but for Randi's single error.

Whitaker Jnr, who has a splendid rapport with the grey stallion, looks as though he will soon make his mark at senior level. He was 1.91 seconds faster than Skelton before penalties yesterday to finish sixth.

The new partnership of John Whitaker and the Irish stallion, Cruising, seems to be progressing, although the scoresheets here might suggest otherwise. On Thursday night the stallion had 30 faults.

"He stopped at the second fence, which was a bit cheeky, so I gave him a smack," Whitaker said. That made the grey "a bit sharp" in yesterday's contest so Whitaker rode him quietly, incurring four faults for one dislodged rail coming out of the double, plus three for time.