Robert Smith on form at Olympia as he claims Saturday’s World Cup qualifier with Marius Claudius

After running away with the pre-qualifying class the day before,Robert Smith repeated his performance to win this year’s Sony Ericsson World Cup qualifier at Olympia.

The Yorkshireman’s victory on Mr Springfield the day before gave him pole position in the World Cup and he changed on to Di Cornish’s eight-year-old Concorde stallion, Marius Claudius for the “big one”.

Bob Ellis’s course was big and very technical, with half-strides and testing lines causing problems all the way. Some major hiccups came at fence four, the combination, which rode very long coming out, and several horses had to make such an effort to jump out that this unsettled them and they faulted soon afterwards.

However, six riders answered every question – three of them, to the packed house’s joy, for Britain – and a fascinating jump-off ensued.

Andrew Davies, who had shown everyone how the first round should be jumped, opened on Mandy Hall’s 2001 Masters winner, Limbo. The Dutch-bred bay tried his heart out again, but rolled a pole as the first part of the double for an eventual fifth place.

Markus Merschformann was much faster for Germany on Camirez B, but a fence again fell, Ireland’s Dermott Lennon and Liscalgot fell foul of the second part of the double and Richard Davenport’s ride, Luc, was jumping out of his skin until inexplicably hitting a n isolated parallel.

German star Lars Nieberg was already well up on the Western European league table and he decided to play percentages on the nine-year-old stallion, Adlantus. The son of Argentinus, also the sire of Nick Skelton’s great hope, Arko, never looked like touching a fence, but the time was obviously beatable.

The pressure was on Robert Smith, but the Warwickshire-based Yorkshireman thrives on this. He did not hurry the 2000 Horse & Hound Foxhunter champion and Marius Claudius answered every question to break the beam more than 3sec ahead.

“This horse has to be up among the best I’ve ever ridden,” said a delighted Robert, who is aiming the horse at the World Cup final and is hoping for a place on next year’s European Championship team.

Although the other classes could have been an anti-climax, they were all hard-fought and kept the audience enthralled. John Whitaker might have been out of luck in the World Cup, but he bounced straight back to form with a terrific early-draw round in the pounds for points topscore, taking home £1,230 on PaulineWoodward’s big grey, Lactic Two.

Germany dominated the evening session. Toni Hassmann produced a tremendous round on the neat stallion Landstreicher to hold off a determined challenge from Robert Whitaker and Lord Liberty W in the Ascot Supreme Horse boxes Speed Stakes, while the closing Sony Ericsson jump-off class was a classic.

In a blanket finish, in which less than 1sec covered the first three home, Otto Becker and Dobel’s Fiala finished ahead of Switzerland’s Beat Mandli on LB Pompidu, with Nick Skelton and Arko looking class personified in third place.

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