Britain’s Michael Whitaker proved he is a formidable contender for Sunday’s FEI World Cup Qualifier at Olympia this afternoon by winning The Christmas Cracker. Whitaker and Insultech Portofino shaved 0.54 sec off leader Eric Van der Vleuten’s time to claim the £5,700 first prize. Germany’s Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst, winner of last night’s Christmas Stakes, finished third with Britain’s Robert Whitaker and Lacroix 9 in fourth.
The result has convinced Michael Whitaker to put 12-year-old Insultech Portofino forward for Sunday afternoon’s World Cup Qualifier. “She [Portofino] is getting even more competitive,” he said afterwards. “I always thought I had a chance.”
But the audience at Olympia were kept in suspense until the last possible moment. Robert Whitaker’s 39.53 sec time looked set to win the competition, until Van der Vleuten scored a new target time of 37.18 sec. Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst, next in the arena, jumped clear in 38.91 sec, leaving Van der Vleuten in front but pushing Robert Whitaker down the leader board.
Michael Whitaker was last to jump and as he met the all-important fifth fence a fraction of a second faster than Van der Vleuten, the audience realised he was in with a chance. And as Portofino passed the finish, the clock stopped on 36.64 sec, putting him in first position.
Whitaker was keen to point out that he has his sights set on the FEI World Cup Qualifier rather than this evening’s Puissance. “I’m scared of heights,” he joked. “I just hope this hasn’t got her [Portofino] too sharp – I’ll have to give her some work tomorrow.”