Michael Whitaker earned himself £800 in the Empire Area Trials at the East of England Show last Friday (16 June), producing a masterful double clear on Up to Date 8 to finish ahead of Angela Thompson and Dale Burnham.

The Empire Area trials boasted the strongest field for a couple of years and David Cole designed a suitably taxing course of show jumps. Competitors were required to negotiate two doubles, a treble and a 10ft wide water tray – all in the blistering heat of the midday sun.

The course caught out all the early starters; the time proved tight and the 16 jumping efforts were easily rattled. Young rider Hannah Paul and Iquim du Plessis produced the first clear in a scorching time of 81.5 sec, to take the early lead.

A clear from Angela Thompson ensured there would be a jump off and, not to be outdone by the girls, Michael Whitaker and Dale Burnham (Cherubin 8) both jumped clear, increasing the jump off line-up to four.

All contestants stepped up the pace in the second round but an unfortunate 12 penalties for Paul proved it was not to be her day. Angela Thompson jumped clear, but needed to go a fraction faster if she was going to prove a threat to Whitaker, who finished a full four seconds faster. Dale Burnham clocked up four penalties, leaving Whitaker in pole position.