Michael Whitaker is best of the British after the first leg of the World Cup show jumping in final in Las Vegas. He carries forward 33 points to this evening’s (Friday’s) competition after Portofino 63 finished ninth in Thursday night’s speed leg.

Germany’s Markus Beerbaum and Constantin led from the front and appeared unassailable until Whitaker and a cluster of riders in the second half of the evening showed it was possible to challenge his 62.7 sec target.

Marcus Ehning, the 2003 winner, finally galloped into the lead on 62.62, to be immediately deposed by Ludo Philippaerts and Parco, who perfected the technique of slingshotting themselves around the wings in this small arena. Philippaerts now heads the original field of 41 on 42 points (pocketing a first prize of $35,000) with Ehning on 40, Markus Beerbaum on 39, and Kimberley Frey of the US fourth on 38 points.

Nick Skelton looked set to join the leading pack but ended up merely scraping into the top 16, where he needs to stay to be in Sunday’s finale. Arko baulked at fence seven, an airy parallel, and semi straddled it to add four penalties to a fast time.

Britain has a record representation, and third man, Richard Davenport, had one fence down to sit in 28th place on 14 points.

Beerbaum’s galvanising start was remarkable because he only qualified two weeks ago and did not realise it until home in Germany after a spell on the Florida circuit.

“Although it meant travelling back across the Atlantic very quickly, at least I got to practice indoors,” he said, agreeing with his US-born wife, Meredith, that many of the home side were flummoxed by the speed at which the fences came up, having spent the winter competing outdoors.