Chaka staysout in front

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM FOX-PITT confirmed his emergence as a world-class horseman with an impressive performance on last year's Burghley winner, Chaka, in the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials yesterday. Incurring just 0.4 time penalties he maintained his narrow dressage lead over Australia's reigning Olympic champion, Matt Ryan on Kibah Tic Toc, and these two are less than four points clear of veteran American team rider Bruce Davidson on Eagle Lion.

The ground, baked by the sun and thousands of trampling feet, certainly rode fast and took more toll on the riders than their horses. Several were injured in falls, including Mandy Stibbe who damaged her pelvis, the Australian David Green, taken to hospital with suspected head injuries after a second fall from Duncan, and Polly Lyon who hurt her shoulder.

Fox-Pitt has transformed the once reluctant Chaka. He gave the 15-year- old Irish-bred horse an accurate and positive ride which left him no opportunity to hesitate. He will need to keep cool and calm again today under pressure to repeat Mark Todd's achievement of last year of leading throughout. Todd himself gave the riding performance of the day after his left stirrup leather broke at fence 13, the Vicarage Pond, on his second ride Bertie Blunt.

"The horse was marvellous," he said. "He kept galloping and straight despite my acrobatics on top." Todd tried every position - even no stirrups at all - to get "vaguely comfortable". The partnership survived brilliantly to lie in fourth place.

Ryan and Kibah Tic Toc are just two points behind the leader, having galloped faster than anyone, which proved that the delayed retirement of the 18-year-old horse was justified. It was a good day for the Hanoverian Thoroughbred cross-breds as Tic Toc and Caliber, ridden by Scot Ian Stark, were two of just eight horses to finish clear inside the 12 minutes 14 seconds allowed on the cross-country phase of this 25,880-metre speed and endurance test. Course designer Hugh Thomas declared himself to be well pleased. "The leaderboard speaks for itself," he said.

Britain's selectors can now be optimistic when they name a short list for the European Championships in Italy next September. Although Karen Dixon and Charlotte Bathe have had a disappointing Badminton, Gifford and Thomson have again excelled while Ian Stark has ridden his way back into the reckoning after being much missed in his short break from the British team.