A top quality field from Britain and Ireland lined up to battle it out for the £4,000 prize in the Land Rover Grade A Jumping Competition on perfect going at Windsor today.
The time initially set by the judges for the class was so tight that an extra 4sec were added to the limit after several early riders notched up time faults. However, Tim Stockdale whizzed round the tricky course on Cloudy Night from fifth draw, to prove that the original time could be managed — just.
An enormous Whitaker factor is in evidence at Windsor this year, with four of them competing in this class. Michael Whitaker continued his run of success with Portofino, and with the support of the crowd behind him, claimed his place in the jump-off.
Other clear rounds were few and far between, but South-African born David McPherson, who now represents Britain, went clear on Socks, reproducing yesterday’s form, as did Billy Twomey on Anastasia. Fellow Irishman Peter Charles, who is described as the “fullback of the Irish team” joined him in the jump-off on Pershing.
Nick Skelton, (pictured) who is bang in form following his win at the British Open in Sheffield, rode a very popular clear in a quick time on Pandur, to make the sixth rider in the second round. If his current form continues, Nick looks a likely candidate for one of the two British Olympic places.
The jump-off was a nail-biting affair, with several riders taking breath-taking turns that brought gasps from the crowd followed by groans as poles dropped to the floor. Tim Stockdale was neither clear nor quick, settling eventually for fifth place, with four faults. Michael Whitaker pulled off a daredevil round, finishing clear in a time of 47.38 seconds.
David McPherson attempted to follow his example but completed the course a second slower and with two fences down. Young Irishman Billy Twomey, who was equal first here yesterday, rode a sharp round, but an unlucky pole down left him well behind the leader, while his compatriot Peter Charles also ended on four faults.
Nick Skelton, last to go, showed off the true quality of Pandur, and although he was no quicker around the first half of the course than Michael Whitaker, he switched on turbo boost over the penultimate fence, and jumped the final combination as if he were steeplechasing. Pandur used every ounce of skill to allow his rider to take such risks, and finished well ahead of Michael Whitaker, who settled for second.
Nick said of the German nine-year-old Pandur: “He’s a very good horse, this one, and very careful, which means there is scope for risk-taking.”
Nick Skelton’s main Olympic prospect is the stallion Arko, but maintains that if the worst came to the worst, Russel, who he rode here yesterday, is also very capable. Nick intends to take all three horses to Rome for the Nation’s Cup.
The 46-year-old rider broke his neck just before the Sydney Olympics, and although he has now recovered fully, the accident has somewhat changed his outlook on competitive life.
“When I had my accident, I was going somewhere every weekend, so it’s very nice now being down to just three top quality horses”, he said.
1. Pandur (Nick Skelton) 45.82sec, 0 faults;
2. Portofino (Michael Whitaker) 47.48sec, 0 faults;
3. Anastasia (Billy Twomey) 46.45sec, 4 faults;
4. Pershing (Peter Charles) 47.50sec, 4 faults;
5. Cloudy Night (Tim Stockdale) 52.10sec, 4 faults;
6. Socks (David McPherson) 48.46sec, 8 faults.