Equestrianism: Todd's talent takes flight

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The Independent Online
MARK TODD demonstrated his unique talent at eventing yet again at the Badminton Horse Trials yesterday. He goes into today's show jumping phase with an excellent chance of taking his second Badminton (he last won on Southern Comfort in 1980) and the Mitsubishi Motors Trophy.

The double Olympic gold- medallist only paired up with his mount, Horton Point, last Tuesday, after his owner-rider Lynne Bevan had broken her collarbone. Rather than leave the horse - who, at 16, is nearing the end of his competitive career - in the stable, Bevan sought the best alternative pilot.

Todd, 40, is one of few horsemen both able and willing to accept such a challenge. He defies all theories. Success at this highest level, they say, depends on knowing your horse, building a partnership, practice, more practice, and experience. Yet, after just three days' acquaintance, the combination looked foot perfect together.

Going first of the 77 starters, Todd charted an economical route, taking the demanding direct options with deceptive ease, and judging the time to perfection, finishing just inside the 12 minutes 27 seconds allowed for the cross country phase. They incurred 0.8 penalties on the Steeplechase, Phase B, to finish seven points ahead of Karen Dixon, who added no penalties to her dressage score of 48.4 riding Get Smart. This 14-year-old is due to complete his sixth Badminton today, and this could be his finest effort. Dixon's approach of 'if in doubt, keep kicking' was the right one. 'He has never let me down,' she said. This performance and that of Mary Thomson on the majestic King William, who also collected no penalties to stand third, were a relief to the selectors for the British three-day-event team, desperately seeking combinations fit to redeem our reputation at the World Equestrian Games at the Hague in August.

On a day when clear rounds were scarce and British clear rounds scarcer, it was a relief when the European silver medallist Kristina Gifford impressed again, this time on her General Jock. They finished inside the time on 58.4, and Helen Bell on Troubleshooter scored 69.6 to place 11th. The American double world champion Bruce Davidson added two points to his dressage score on Eagle Lion to share 57 penalties with the New Zealander Vaughn Jefferis on Bounce.

But for most of their rivals that blend of accuracy and speed proved elusive. Disappointing single refusals were recorded by the Barcelona Olympic gold-medallist Matt Ryan, of Australia, on Kibah Ticktock, the reigning world champion, Blyth Tait, on Tempo and his New Zealand team- mate Vicky Latta on Chief.

Britain's Lucinda Murray was one of several hopefuls to suffer a fall. She went on to finish well, but Ian Stark was less fortunate when the promising grey Stanwick Ghost retired after a crashing fall coming out of the Quarry. Another British hope was dashed.