EQUESTRIANISM 'Happy' Chaka's dazzling display

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reports from Badminton

William Fox-Pitt held the lead for Britain at the end of the dressage phase of the Badminton Three-Day Event, after riding a wonderful test on 15-year-old Chaka with whom he won at Burghley last year. If he can add the Mitsubishi Trophy to the silverware he took home from Burghley, it will allow Chaka, who is expected to retire after this event, to go out in a blaze of glory.

Fox-Pitt, 26, has 2.4 points in hand over the Australian Olympic champions, Matt Ryan and his 18-year-old warrior, Kybah Tic Toc, as they go into today's cross-country phase. Next come the American rider, Bruce Davidson, on Eagle Lion, and Mary Thomson on the overnight leader, King Kong. New Zealand's Mark Todd, who won the Mitsubishi Trophy here last year, is close behind in fifth place on Bertie Blunt and sixth on Just an Ace.

Thomson is back in equal 21st on the more talented of her two mounts, King William, who spoiled his test by becoming overwrought. The problems began at the halt preceding the rein-back, the sixth of 20 movements. "William stepped sideways away from the clicking cameras," Thomson said. "Everyone gasped when that happened, which made him tense up even more."

Karen Dixon, with Thomson on last year's World Games winning team, had an even less comfortable ride on Too Smart, who is 53rd. Her horse was wound up before a light aeroplane flew low over the arena and made him worse. Kristina Gifford, equal seventh on General Jock, is the best of the World Games team.

Fox-Pitt's outstanding test was the best he has ever achieved. "Chaka was amazing, I'll never ride another that's as good at dressage," he said. "He enjoys himself in the arena and he puts that across, I think his happy way of going earns him extra marks."

Fox-Pitt is hoping that Chaka's last event will be his best. He is well aware that the horse has a reputation for not trying too hard over Badminton's cross-country and he would love to "lay that ghost" as well.

Scorching sunshine has made the going firm, which should make the optimum time of 12min 14sec easier to attain on today's cross-country, but some of the brave fast routes will still need to be taken.

BADMINTON THREE-DAY EVENT (Avon) Standings after dressage: 1 Chaka (W Fox-Pitt, GB) 40.4; 2 Kibah Tic Toc (M Ryan, Aus) 42.8; 3 Eagle Lion (B Davidson, US) 46.6; 4 King Kong (M Thomson, GB) 47.0; 5 Bertie Blunt (M Todd, NZ) 48.0; 6 Just an Ace (M Todd, NZ) 49.0.