Whitaker triumphs but double tragedy hits equestrian events
William Whitaker saw off a concerted challenge from London 2012 Olympic team gold medallist Nick Skelton to land the Bolesworth International Redrow Grand Prix in Cheshire.
The Yorkshire-based rider, a member of the famous Whitaker British showjumping dynasty, emerged victorious from a 58-strong field that contested a £9,900 top prize in the grounds of Bolesworth Castle.
A total of 15 combinations went through to the jump-off, with 24-year-old Whitaker doing enough on Upperclass to keep Skelton and Aristio at bay.
Whitaker’s time of 52.55 seconds meant Skelton (53.14) had to settle for second, with Robert Bevis and Pebbles IV third, Yasmin Pinchen and Ahkari fourth, Tim Page and Santa Cruise fifth and Ireland’s Billy Twomey finishing sixth on Royale Du Rouet.
Whitaker, who is the nephew of John and Michael Whitaker, is viewed by many as a candidate to make Great Britain’s World Equestrian Games-bound showjumping team later this summer.
And his performance in front of watching British team boss Rob Hoekstra could easily have strengthened his selection claim as Britain target world championship glory following their 2012 Olympics and 2013 European title successes.
Skelton, meanwhile, lavished praise on Bolesworth as a venue, one that has made rapid strides on the showjumping circuit under organiser Nina Barbour’s guidance.
“It is a wonderful venue, one of the nicest facilities I have seen for a long, long time,” Skelton said. “They’ve done a remarkable job – it is world-class.
“From London in 2012, this is what we are getting back for it, which is all well-deserved. Nina Barbour has done a brilliant job, and she deserves all the success.
“Her ambition is to have a four-star show next year and then try to get up to five-star level. I think you could run any event here – you could run the European Championships.
“It’s big enough, well-organised and the ground is perfect.”
Tributes have been paid to two riders who died in incidents at separate international horse trials events.
Canadian Jordan McDonald died while competing at the Nunney International competition near Frome in Somerset, and rising German star Benjamin Winter was killed during Germany’s major four-star event at Luhmuhlen near Hamburg.
McDonald, 30, had been married for just a year to fellow eventer Shandiss McDonald. He was riding Only Me on the cross-country phase of a class on Saturday.
“It is with the deepest regret that we announce that Mr Jordan McDonald suffered a fatal accident whilst competing at Nunney British Eventing-affiliated one day event in Somerset,” British Eventing said, in a statement.
“Jordan’s horse, ‘Only Me’, a seven-year-old gelding, was not injured.
“Jordan was aged 30 and based in Leicestershire, but is Canadian by nationality. He had been married to Shandiss for one year. No further details are available at present.”
Competition was halted for the day following McDonald’s accident, but resumed on Sunday, when many riders wore black armbands as a mark of respect, including reigning Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials champion Sam Griffiths, and a minute’s silence was also held. “Unbelivably sad day for our sport,” Australian Griffiths said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends involved. Life is so precious.”
Nunney is a relatively new event on the British calendar, but it annually attracts many of the world’s top riders, Competitors entered this year included Griffiths, Zara Phillips, Tina Cook and Izzy Taylor.
Equestrian sport’s world governing body, the Federation Equestre Internationale, released a statement following 25-year-old Winter’s death at Luhmuhlen yesterday.
The FEI also confirmed that a full investigation into the accident had been launched. Competition continued yesterday at the request of Winter’s family.
“Mr Winter and the 10-year-old gelding Ispo had a rotational fall at fence 20, resulting in fatal injuries to the rider. The horse was uninjured in the fall,” the FEI said.