Equestrianism: Funnell weaves magic on Rainbow

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PIPPA FUNNELL yesterday produced a dressage test on Rainbow Magic that was clearly a cut above the rest at the Blenheim Horse and Hound International Horse Trials, where she now holds the lead as riders prepare for today's cross-country.

Funnell has had a few cross-country problems with the nine-year-old, who can be "a bit cheeky", since winning at Achselschwang in 1996, but the horse was in fine form when finishing fourth in the British Open Championship at Gatcombe Park last month. Rainbow Magic, fitter than he has ever been, is quite capable of giving Funnell her third victory here.

The horse was bought from the former European show jumping champion, Peter Charles, who gave Funnell four weeks to decide whether she wanted him. The extended trial proved unnecessary. "I loved Rainbow Magic from the first time I sat on him," Funnell said.

The British rider is now 4.2pts ahead of Thursday's leader, Gayle Molander from the United States, on Sir Nicholas. A fraction behind, in joint third place, come the Dutchman Eddy Stibbe on Rimini Park Fabian, and the American Abigail Lufkin on Cameo.

Two New Zealanders, Mark Todd on Regal Scot and Andrew Nicholson on the Windsor runner-up, King Leo, moved into fifth and sixth places yesterday. Both horses have good cross-country form and the Kiwis are bound to set out as though they mean business today when they tackle Mike Etherington- Smith's 29 fences.

Apart from Funnell, the best Britons are Lucinda Fredericks, lying seventh on Dalliance, and Kristina Gifford in 10th place on The Gangster II. Gifford was delighted with her huge ex-show jumping mount. The eight-year-old proved he has the temperament for dressage and he will surely improve in that sphere.