Equestrianism: Todd exploits chance: New Zealander takes pole position

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MARK TODD conjured a wonderful dressage test from his chance ride, Horton Point, on the opening day of the Badminton Three-Day Event. The New Zealander was first into the arena yesterday morning and his 40.6 penalties remained the best of the day.

Todd was offered the ride on the 16-year-old Horton Point on Sunday after the horse's regular partner, Lynne Bevan, broke her collar-bone. Hugh Thomas, the director of the event, would have preferred a Briton as substitute jockey, so it was not until Tuesday that Todd knew for certain he had the ride. He sat on the horse for the first time on Wednesday.

'I felt quite at home on him,' Todd said after his excellent test. Close behind, in this tough contest for the Mitsubishi Trophy and pounds 20,000 first prize, come William Fox-Pitt on Chaka and Ian Stark on the eight-year-old Stanwick Ghost. This is Stark's 15th ride at Badminton and yesterday's 42.8 penalties represents his best-ever score in the dressage.

'I couldn't get him near the grandstand yesterday,' Stark said of the young grey. 'But he was really relaxed today, he gave me more in the arena than he did outside or when I work him at home.'

Lucinda Murray was delighted that her more volatile grey partner, Arctic Goose, was also co-operative in the arena. 'Goose has only had two runs since autumn 1992 and he's definitely rusty, but he really tried for me,' she said.

Murray is now lying fifth - just 0.6 pt behind Australia's Felicity Cribb on Carmody Street and 7.2 pts ahead of the United States rider, Bruce Davidson, on Eagle Lion.

Todd, who rides Just an Ace in the dressage today, will be first to tackle Hugh Thomas's 29 cross-country fences with Horton Point tomorrow. He is not bothered by the prospect. 'Hopefully I'll go out there and set the pace,' he said. 'Though I hesitate to say it, I think the course looks reasonable - but maybe that's because I've got two good jumpers here.'

Stark may be a little more cautious with Stanwick Ghost, who is competing here for the first time. 'I just hope he's ready for it,' the Scot said. 'He's still a baby, so I'll play it by ear and maybe take some of the slower options.'

If the handsome grey goes well here, Stark can expect to be back on the British team for this year's World Equestrian Games in The Hague.

BADMINTON THREE-DAY EVENT (Avon): Standings after first day of dressage: 1 Horton Point (M Todd, NZ) 40.6; 2 Chaka (W Fox-Pitt, GB) 42.0; 3 Stanwick Ghost (I Stark, GB) 42.8; 4 Carmody Street (F Cribb, Aus) 47.2; 5 Arctic Goose (L Murray, GB) 47.8; 6 Eagle Lion (B Davidson, US) 55.0.