Equestrianism: Last-minute acceptance puts Todd on first: Double Olympic champion leads international entry for Badminton Three-Day Event

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MARK TODD will be the first competitior into the dressage arena this morning when the Badminton Three-Day Event begins on the Duke of Beaufort's estate in Avon. The New Zealander took on the dubious privilege of going first (in Saturday's cross-country as well as the dressage phase) when he accepted a last-minute ride on Horton Point.

Todd is regarded as the best rider in the world when it comes to getting an immediate tune from a strange horse, which is obviously why the injured Lynne Bevan asked him to take her place. Bevan, sidelined with a broken collar-bone, has ridden Horton Point to clear cross- country rounds at Badminton for the last three years.

Though 16-year-old Horton Point is expected to go well, Todd's main chance of winning the Mitsubishi Trophy and pounds 20,000 first prize must rest with his second mount, Just an Ace. The dual Olympic champion first rode this horse at Badminton in 1991, when deputising for the injured Robert Lemieux at short notice. He finished fifth and would have been well-placed last year but for Just an Ace missing his stride at the 14th fence and turning a somersault over it. The pair then went on to be runners-up at Burghley in September.

Todd's compatriot, the world champion Blyth Tait, also has two good strings to his bow in Tempo and the little mare, Delta III. Tait has twice ridden at Badminton and he was runner-up on both occasions.

Other distinguished riders from different continents include Bruce Davidson of the United States with Eagle Lion and Happy Talk (both helped him to finish top of the world rankings last year) and Australia's Matt Ryan with Kibah Tic Toc, who was his mount when winning the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Notwithstanding the ever increasing strength of the overseas competitors, British riders have won Badminton for the last 13 years. Three of those victories were achieved by Virginia Elliot (formerly Leng), who had to withdraw her two mounts through injury.

Elliot is bound to be on the short- list for this year's World Equestrian Games when it is announced on Monday. The selectors will be scrutinising other likely candidates at Badminton - among them Ian Stark on his latest grey partner, Stanwick Ghost, Mary Thomson on the 1992 winner, King William, and Karen Dixon on the wonderfully consistent Get Smart.

Thomson has painful memories of last year's showjumping, when King William clouted six fences and dropped from an overnight fourth to 20th place on the final day. Dixon had an uncomfortable start when the tough little Get Smart clowned his way through the dressage before jumping his fifth clear round (from the same number of Badminton outings) in the cross- country.

Last year William Fox-Pitt finished seventh on Chaka and Nick Burton was ninth on Bertie Blunt. They were subsequently chosen for the European Championships, in which Burton retired after a cross- country fall and Fox-Pitt was forced to pull up when Chaka ran out of steam. Both need good performances this week if they are to have another chance of team selection.

Lucinda Murray, who rides the dynamic Arctic Goose and the equable Just Jeremy, has been anxiously waiting for the second horse to move off the waiting list. Jeremy's place was eventually confirmed this week, as were those of everyone else who had entered.

Having decided that 80 starters would be the maximum, Hugh Thomas, director of the event, was left with that number yesterday morning but Jabba the Hut, with whom Frances Hay Smith was the best placed British rider when seventh at Burghley last year, failed the afternoon's horse inspection.

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