Michael Whitaker has bagged a £500,000 sponsorship deal — the biggest ever announced in British show jumping.
Michael’s long-term backer Graham Gillespie’s business — Gillespie Investments Group (GIG) — has agreed to sponsor Michael in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, although it is still not certain Michael will be able to compete.
Mr Gillespie already owns a number of horses ridden by Michael, including Portofino — now GIG Portofino.
“This is brilliant news for me and my horses,” said Michael, who burst back onto the competition scene last month after a four-month ban, and is currently at number two in the British rider rankings.
Michael was banned by the International Equestrian Federation after stallion Tackeray tested positive for the active ingredient in Regu-mate — altrenogest — following a mix-up with feeds at La Baule on 14 May.
Altrenogest — a synthetic hormone — is banned for male competition horses.
Although Michael is back competing now, under British Olympic Association (BOA) rules his doping ban means he cannot jump at the 2012 Olympics.
His legal team is working on an appeal to the BOA.
“The Olympic ban does not bother me that much at the moment,” said Michael. “You have to have the right horse and be going well at the time to go to the Olympics. But if I have a good horse [in 2012] and we are going well but I can’t go, then I’ll be angry.”
Graham Gillespie told H&H: “2012 will be Michael’s last shot at the Olympics and I want him to be able to focus on that, that’s why I’m offering him this sponsorship.
“The last four months have changed him — he’s been able to spend more time with his family and I’d like him to be able to continue to do that, rather than rushing from one show to another to make his living.”
He said the deal was also good for GIG. “The renewable energy side of my business is taking off now and involves a lot of farms and land acquisitions. Many of them [landowners] will watch show jumping so this promotion of Michael gives us a little talking point,” he said.