Badminton horse trials: Fourth title in hands of Todd

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The Independent Online
MARK TODD looks like justifying favouritism again with both bookmakers and the eventing public as he goes into the final show jumping stage today at the Badminton Horse Trials. Riding the 15-year-old Broadcast News, who carried him to victory in the Open European Championships last year at Burghley, Todd excelled again in one of the hottest international competitions seen in Britain.

The horse must first survive a veterinary inspection this morning, a possible stumbling block even for Todd, but this partnership have looked sound enough over show jumps in their short but brilliant career together. ``He takes a while to warm up,'' the 42-year-old New Zealander reported. ``But he's a fabulous little horse, brave and tough and fast. A joy to ride.''

Even the most patriotic Briton would not begrudge Todd, who won this in 1980, 1994 and 1996, as well as consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 1980s, another victory. A British win is overdue, but Chris Bartle is poised on Todd's heals with Word Perfect II, just 1.4 points behind, and another British rider, Kristina Gifford, on General Jock, a further nine penalties away in third. Bartle described his improving 10-year-old as ``brilliant''. ``He was down on his knees at the Badminton Drop. But this time I stuck on while others fell off.''

Bartle needed that having fallen at the European Championships last year when riding for Britain. His chances for selection for the World Games in Italy this summer look good.

Gifford had a foot-perfect ride on the former team horse General Jock but said: ``I never look forward to the show jumping with him,'' adding more positively, ``but it's getting better.''

The American veteran Bruce Davidson came next on his 1995 winner, Eagle Lion, 0.8 penalties behind. Davidson has lost none of the competitive edge that twice made him world champion in the 1970s. The world champion, Vaughn Jefferis, was only 0.6 points away in fifth, with Karen O'Connor a close sixth with Prince Panache. The Canadian Stuart Black, who impressed the dressage judges so much to lead that phase, worked hard in vain to stay ahead, picking up four time penalties on the steeplechase and a further 12.4 on the cross-country course. ``Market Venture is dead honest and took all the shortest routes,'' he said. ``But he's not very quick, just keeps on jumping.''

One of the favourites, Blyth Tait on the Olympic hero Ready Teddy, parted company at the Bank (fence 18) when looking on target to take third, but Tait faired better earlier with his first ride, Aspyring, one of 12 competitors to finish clear inside the time of 12 min 50 sec on cross country. They lie in equal ninth place with Eric Smiley of Ireland just behind Lucy Thompson on Welton Monequal. Thompson withdrew her first horse, Welton Romance, explaining: ``She's not in a good mood.''

Fans of Pippa Funnell and the dashing skewbald Bits And Pieces were sickened when after Funnell's best ride at Badminton she pulled up with two fences to jump as the horse felt lame. There was sadness for Erica Watson whose mare Last Of The Incas collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack.

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