Equestrianism: Stark aims to impress: World's best head for Althorp

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THERE is an odds-on chance that competitors at the Althorp Maverick Championship, starting today in Northamptonshire, will include all those destined to become three- day event gold medallists at the World Equestrian Games later this month in The Hague.

The event doubles as a final trial for riders on the British short-list, but it has also attracted pretty well every other leading rider in the world. Ireland and the United States are among other countries who will have all their best horses in action.

Althorp begins with dressage today, followed by show jumping and cross-country tomorrow. It is split into three sections with confusingly similar names: The Maverick Championship (which includes all those on the British short-list), The Maverick (non-short-listed British and overseas horses) and The Championship.

The latter section, which was added to accommodate the huge overseas entry, has no British competitors. Nor does it have any New Zealanders. The British-based New Zealanders were unhappy at the double-priced entry fee of pounds 88 for The Championship, which carries no prize-money. However, three top New Zealanders - Mark Todd, Blyth Tait and Victoria Latta - have a place in the first section, which offers a first prize of pounds 2,000. Tait's mounts include Delta, the mare he will be riding in his world title defence in The Hague.

Ian Stark, who had expected to miss the Games when Stanwick Ghost fell with him at Badminton, is now in contention for a place in the squad, to be announced on Monday. He rides his new mount, Frances Mullan's Kilcoran, with whom he was runner-up at Bramham last month.

Karen Dixon and Mary Thomson, who were on the Olympic team with Stark in 1992, will also be hoping for a place - as will Kristina Gifford, who was runner-up at last year's European Championships.

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