British show jumping number one, Robert Smith, has turned down a ticket to attend the FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final, which will take place in Las Vegas from 20 to 24 April.
Smith, who currently tops the BSJA leaderboard, won the World Cup qualifier in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the end of March, leaving him fourth among the reserve riders for the final. Three earlier withdrawals paved the way to Las Vegas for him and he was offered a place in the final after Swedish rider Rolf-Goran Bentsson also dropped out.
However, the British rider decided to spurn the Las Vegas show because his Olympic ride, Mr Springfield, was injured earlier in the year and he is reluctant to risk a more inexperienced horse, such as Senator Kalusha, on such a long journey. Instead, he will focus on a number of spring and summer shows closer to home.
“I hadn’t really planned for going to Las Vegas and with Mr Springfield injured, I’d decided to concentrate on other shows this spring,” he says. “I have a couple of horses who would be up to it, but I’d rather not risk taking them all the way over there when I need to look after them for the busy year I have coming up.”
Smith would have been the fourth Brit to compete in the final. “It is fantastic that we qualified four British riders. Sadly the World Cup final was not part of Robert Smith’s programme for this year and he’s aiming his horses towards the European Championships,” says Jackey Knightley of the BSJA. But, she adds, the rest of the British contingent is in a very strong position. “The World Cup requires extremely athletic and consistent horses and we are sending three of them there.”
Nick Skelton, who headed the European World Cup standings with a staggering 83 points, is a strong contender for the title. He is one of only two British riders to have landed the Show Jumping World Cup since the competition started in 1979, when he won the 1995 final with his mare Dollar Girl. Aboard Arko III, he will now try to emulate two-time winner John Whitaker, who claimed the cup in 1990 and 1991.
Skelton will be joined in Las Vegas by Michael Whitaker, who beat his niece Ellen to first place by just one second in the World Cup qualifier in Tampa, Florida, last week. The victory propelled him to seventh place in the qualifier rankings and secured him a ticket to the final, where he will ride Portofino 63, which was his mount in Tampa, or Handel li, which he rode in the 2001 and 2004 World Cups.
Richard Davenport, who will be aboard Laguina, is the third Brit to make it to Las Vegas. Although he was originally 19th in the standings, he was allowed in because the FEI decided that Brazilian rider Rodrigo Pessoa, who is based in Belgium and qualified through the European rounds, would go in as extra to preserve the statutory 18 places allotted to European riders.
Smith’s decision to withdraw will open the way for German reserve rider Christian Ahlmann, making Germany the single most represented European country at the show with seven riders.