Britain lifted by King and Stark

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The Independent Online
The British team held a slender lead over New Zealand at the end of yesterday's first day of dressage at the Pedigree Chum-sponsored European Open Three- Day Event Championships, in which Mary King and Ian Stark are now lying third and fourth individually.

King is 5.2pts behind the 26-year-old Finnish leader, Piia Pantsu, on her wonderful little Polish-bred mare, Cyna. Pantsu rode Cyna to finish fifth in both the 1994 World Equestrian Games and the 1995 European Open Championships, so she is not going to relinquish the lead lightly.

Andrew Nicholson, of New Zealand, is lying second on Dawdle, closely followed by King with Star Appeal, who were the winning combination here last year, and Stark on Arakai. King says Star Appeal "tends to hide within himself", but yesterday the 12-year-old gelding displayed a lightness of movement which evidently pleased the judges.

Stark's New Zealand-bred mount Arakai (by Ring the Bell who also sired this year's Grand National winner, Lord Gyllene) was much calmer than he was at Badminton when collecting 66 dressage penalties to finish the first phase back in 50th place. "I've had him for a year now and he's beginning to trust me, he's getting more confident and secure," Stark said of the nine-year-old, who has shown outstanding talent when jumping cross-country courses.

The riders have been surprised by the severity of the 30 cross-country fences which they will tackle tomorrow. "I was rubbing my hands with glee, because a big course should suit the British," King said. She will be the fifth rider, and the first of the British team, to set out.

Britain's two remaining team members, Christopher Bartle on Word Perfect II and William Fox-Pitt on Cosmopolitan II, will be riding their dressage tests today. If these two horses are on their best behaviour, Britain should still be in the lead at the end of the day.