Nick Skelton booked his ticket to the FEI World Cup final in Las Vegas at the weekend with a superb victory on board John and Lisa Hales’ stallion Arko from final draw in the Leipzig qualifier.

The 8,500 capacity crowd was treated to a thrilling jump-off after only seven riders, two Britons and five Germans, found all the answers to course-designer Frank Rothenberger’s tough test in the opening round.

The first line of an oxer to an upright was welcoming, but total accuracy and attention was then required from the triple bar at fence three right through to the end of the track. A forward four-stride distance between the triple bar and the following oxer proved the undoing of many, while the turn to the next vertical also presented difficulties.

The tight three-stride distance from the vertical at fence seven to the narrow gate at eight and the combination at fence 10 accounted for many, while the maximum-height upright at the end of the track was seriously intimidating. Ten riders picked up a frustrating four faults to narrowly miss out.

The jump-off was heavily weighted in favour of Germany but the on form Richard Davenport, 24, who won the World Cup qualifier at Olympia last month, produced a strong performance when first into the ring with Laguina but unfortunately clipped the vertical at fence seven to collect four faults. Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst and Candy then cruised around clear to stop the clock in 37.45sec.

Third to go was German hero, Ludger Beerbaum, who set the crowd alight when he galloped from the start with Goldfever. A mistake at the first element of the combination put paid to their chances and the crowd collectively held its breath when Goldfever buckled onto his knees after clearing the following vertical. Never stirring in the saddle, Beerbaum waited for the horse to find his feet before galloping to the clear the last. He cast a careful eye over his horse as he left the arena with just four faults in 37.44sec.

Holger Wulschner and Clausen produced a super-fast time of 35.64sec, helped by a very tight turn after fence seven, but the second-last hit the floor for four faults. When Tjark Nagel and Cash lowered the upright at seven in 40.25secs, only Lars Nieberg and Nick Skelton were left to challenge Pollmann-Schweckhorst’s target. And Nieberg did just that with a determined performance from his ride Lucie, who romped through the finish clear in 37.01sec, putting the pressure on the final British challenger.

Skelton and Arko, who were heavily tipped for an Olympic medal in Athens, proved more than up to the challenge and put the result beyond doubt with a beautifully executed round in 36.74sec. That clinched Skelton the top prize of 21,250 euros and 20 all-important World Cup points, moving him into second place in the World Cup leader board and ensuring him a place in the Las Vegas final.

“I’m very pleased with the horse, he jumped really well for me today” Skelton said afterwards. “You don’t get too many horses like him in a lifetime.”

This win came at an ideal time for the partnership as Arko is travelling to Gilbert Bockmann’s yard in Oldenburg to stand at stud in a couple of weeks before returning to Skelton in time for the World Cup final.

“Arko will go to Bockmann’s for five weeks and then I’ll have him back just in time to get him right again for Las Vegas,” Skelton explained. “He’s a very consistent horse and I think we’ll have every chance in Vegas.”

Richard Davenport also looks to have done enough to qualify along with long-time league leader Wim Schroder from Holland, Germany’s Toni Hassmann, Switzerland’s Christophe Barbeau and Dutchman Eric van der Vleuten.

FEI World Cup jumping leaderboard

1. Wim Schroder – 46;
2. Toni Hassmann, Nick Skelton – 44;
4. Christophe Barbeau – 42;
5. Eric Van der Vleuten, Richard Davenport – 40;
7. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum – 37;
9. Marcus Ehning – 33;
10. Christian Ahlmann – 31;
11. Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst – 29;
12. Lars Nieberg – 28;
13. Rodrigo Pessoa – 27;
14. Philippe Leoni – 26;
15. Steve Guerdat – 25;
16. Robert Whitaker, Michael Whitaker – 24;
18. Tina Lund, Gerco Schroder – 22;
20. Jean-Claude Vangeenberghe – 20.