Whitaker the leading man

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The Independent Online
John Whitaker won a high-class jump-off against the clock to pip his long-time rival Nick Skelton to the Leading Showjumper of the Year prize at the Horse of the Year Show here last night.

Whitaker's eight-year-old Dutch bred gelding Virtual Village Heyman just held off Skelton's Virtual Village Zalza and looks to have all the talent to keep Britain's highest-rated rider at the top. The popular combination of Geoff Billington and Virtual Village It's Otto were hard on their heels in a satisfying one-two-three for their shared sponsors.

Carl Edwards, quoted a 14-1 chance by the bookmakers Ladbrokes, deserved to win the earlier Daewoo Championshipwhen his own Moneymore completed two clear rounds in an eight-horse jump-off.

He was followed home for the pounds 5,000 prize by three of the Whitaker family of whom Veronique, the only other to jump clear a second time, incurred three time faults on Eldorado to finish runner-up ahead of husband Michael, who had the fastest four faults on Virtual Village Magic Carpet, and John, fourth on the veteran Virtual Village Grannusch.

Edwards is lucky to be riding at all, as he almost severed a foot in an accident on his father's farm two years ago. It was pieced together with 14 pins, and wire which is now removed, but Moneymore remained with the Edwards virtually unjumped as a six and seven-year-old. The optimism is now earning rewards despite temptingly lucrative offers from foreign buyers.

The survival of the Horse of the Year Show has been increasingly threatened in recent years, but its 50th anniversary next year is now assured. Grandstand Media, who came to the rescue backed by the British Showjumping Association and Wembley Stadium Limited, announced: "The show has broken even and has a brighter outlook than it has had for many years."

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