Equestrianism: Cool Funnell takes hot spot

PIPPA FUNNELL yesterday held the lead at the end of the dressage phase of the Burghley Pedigree Chum Horse Trials, having ridden a smooth and accurate test on her long-standing partner Rainbow Magic.

The British rider is now three penalty points ahead of Australia's Merran Wallis on Gershwin III, with the overnight leader, Karen Dixon on Too Smart, now lying a close third as they go into today's cross-country. William Fox-Pitt is in fourth on Pie in the Sky II, just ahead of three of the sport's best-known riders: Mark Todd on Diamond Hall Red, Mary King on Star Appeal and Blyth Tait on Chesterfield, who are in joint fifth.

This will be the biggest test so far for Rainbow Magic, who won the Achselschwang three-day event in Germany with Funnell in 1997 and was fourth at Bramham this year. "The course is huge and we're all worried about this heat," Funnell said. "It's a long way round even on a cold day."

King, however, is less concerned about the weather. "It's hot, but not humid," she said. "The organisers have done everything they can to help, we'll have heaps of ice and cold water, as well as a big open marquee to provide shade for the horses before they go out."

Wallis, who bought Gershwin as a yearling "because he had such a nice face", had lost her confidence when she lent the horse to her compatriot, Andrew Hoy, for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Since she is willing to tackle today's big track, she must have regained her nerve.

Todd was delighted with Diamond Hall Red's dressage, which was marred only by a disinclination to walk when the test required it.

Todd's mount was back in 71st place after the dressage at Blenheim last year, before finishing 26th. Having spent part of the winter with the British dressage rider, Jane Bredin, he seems, according to Todd, "to have cottoned on to what it's all about."