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Robert Whitaker breaks new ground in Birmingham

  - Robert Whitaker breaks new ground in Birmingham

Showjumper wins a record third British title having led the British Open Show Jumping Championships for all four days

Robert Whitaker claimed a record third success in the British Open Show Jumping Championships at the NEC in Birmingham yesterday after completing four days of superb jumping on his mother Claire’s French-bred gelding, Lacroix 9.

Robert Whitaker, 23, who had led from the start of the competition on Thursday, held on to his lead in the two-part final and collected only one time fault over the tense rounds.

Robert Smith, also attempting to secure a third win, had to settle for third place on Vangelis after saving his best round until last. The two Britons were separated by Nathalie van der Mei, of the Netherlands, on Springtime. The 43-year-old world No 156, competing in Britain for the first time, pronounced her Dutch-bred gelding “the best horse I have — he is a real fighter”.

The same could be said of Whitaker’s Lacroix, who, despite his 14 years, made light of the four rounds of competition. “I knew he was a tough horse but I had not expected him to come out so fresh today,” Whitaker, ranked No 30 in the world, said.

Despite his win he was critical of the formula for the British Open. “It’s asking a lot of one horse, I think two qualifiers would be enough,” he said. Smith nodded in assent, but said he had “given up trying to get the organisers to change it”.

Robert Whitaker had opened his campaign with faultless performances in the first two qualifying rounds, in which he finished first and third respectively. Four faults in the third qualifier on Saturday had allowed Pius Schwizer, of Switzerland, on Ulysse, and Kevin Staut, of France, on Jo de Labarde, to join him at the top of the standings. The three started yesterday’s final on zero faults.

Bob Ellis’s opening 13-fence course, in which riders went in reverse order of merit, produced a dramatic climax when Staut, the last rider into the ring, was flung unceremoniously from his horse at the third fence and was eliminated. Whitaker held on to his lead with one fault. In the tense final round, involving the top eight riders over a shortened eight-fence course, Nick Skelton, on Nemo, and Ellen Whitaker, on Ocolado, moved into fifth and sixth places with four faults each.

Smith and Van der Mei were clear, putting the pressure on Whitaker, who could afford only one mistake to keep the lead. Advised by his father, John, to “make sure you keep all the fences up”, Whitaker did as bid — receiving a roar of approval as he galloped through the finish to claim his £25,000 prize.

- Zara Phillips and Toytown, her world champion, completed their preparation for the Mitusbishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials yesterday with a superb win in the advanced class of the Powderham Horse Trials in Devon. Phillips led the class from the dressage phase to finish a fraction of a point ahead of Polly Stockton, on Regulus. But she had to retire her second horse, Secret Legacy, after two refusals at the water fence.

Robert Whitaker breaks new ground in Birmingham

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