Tops class act

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Jan Tops, the Olympic gold-medallist for the Dutch team in 1992, shot up the Western European League from 25th to sixth position when winning the Volvo World Cup qualifier on Sonora La Silla at Olympia yesterday.

The world-class field included Ludger Beerbaum, the clear League leader and reigning Olympic individual champion, and the German was one of just four of the 35 starters to reach the jump-off. Beerbaum and Tops were joined at that stage by Lesley McNaught-Maendli, riding Pirol IV for Switzerland, and the dashing French rider Alexandra Ledermann on Rochet M.

However, bitter disappointment took the edge off the contest for the partisan crowd when Michael Whitaker, having jumped a superb, clear round on Everest Two Step was penalised by 0.25 time faults. Whitaker was appalled. "There was so much time, I never considered it a problem,'' he said. "If the time had been tight it wouldn't have happened.'' This was his first time-fault all year and, after working hard to have Two Step "spot on" for this class, he was particularly unhappy. However his fifth prize takes him to eighth in the World Cup standings, improving his chances for the finals in Gothenburg next April.

In the jump-off, the British-born McNaught-Maendli went first, Pirol turned awkwardly to the second obstacle and faulted, but they were quick enough to put the pressure on Beerbaum, who also had four faults but was 1.37 seconds faster. Tops then clipped off another 1.06sec with a smooth round on Sonora. "She's a real winner,'' he said.

Tops, however, was only at Olympia on a wild card which he earned with his recent form on Sonora and the better known Top Gun La Silla. Gothenburg, though, will, provide a better test of Sonora's worth.