“I think I’ve done about 25 finals, so it’s about time I won it!” said Michael Whitaker, after he was confirmed to fly the British flag along with his nephew Robert Whitaker at the prestigious Longines FEI World Cup Final in Paris (10-15 April).
Michael’s third-place finish in the final qualifier of the series at the CSI5*-W in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Sunday (25 February) with JB’s Hot Stuff was enough to push him to sixth in the overall standings for the Western European League, with the top 20 going forward to the final.
Paris last hosted the World Cup final in 1987 and Michael was in action there that year, too. He has claimed three podium finishes at the showpiece event, finishing runner-up in 2005 on Portofino, third in 2001 on Handel II and third on Midnight Madness in 1994, but outright victory has so far proved elusive.
But while 57-year-old Michael has racked up an impressive tally of World Cup finals in his illustrious career, this will mark the first time 35-year-old Robert has qualified for the final showdown on the winter circuit. He and Catwalk IV finished sixth in Sunday’s competition — won by Swedish rider Henrik von Eckermann (Mary Lou 194). In a great weekend for Kent-based Robert, he also secured victory in the show’s grand prix the previous day riding Cash Sent.
“Catwalk is 15 now so I did say before Christmas that it would be good to go to the final this year because of his age,” Robert told H&H.
The first FEI World Cup final took place in Gothenburg in 1979 and this year’s finalists will compete for a jackpot of more than €1.3 million. The USA’s McLain Ward took the title with HH Azur at last year’s finals. The last British World Cup winner was Nick Skelton with Dollar Girl in 1995, while John Whitaker won back-to-back titles with Milton in 1990 and 1991, just missing out on the hat-trick as he finished runner-up to Ian Millar (CAN) the year before.
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The top 20 riders in the Western European League to have qualified for the final are as follows, although the tickets drop down to lower ranked riders should any of these not attend:
Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) 84
Kevin Staut (FRA) 79
Marcus Ehning (GER) 67
Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) 58
Denis Lynch (IRL) 57
Christian Ahlmann (GER) 56
Michael Whitaker (GBR) 56
Roger Yves Bost (FRA) 52
Pieter Devos (BEL) 49
Daniel Deusser (GER) 48
Carlos Enrique Lopez (COL) 46
Harrie Smolders (NED) 45
Alberto Zorzi (ITA) 45
Steve Guerdat (SUI) 44
Eduardo Alvarez Aznar (ESP) 43
Robert Whitaker (GBR) 40
Douglas Lindelow (SWE) 40
Mark McAuley (IRL) 39
Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) 37
Simon Delestre (FRA) 35
Don’t miss the full report from the World Cup final in Paris in the 19 April issue of Horse & Hound.