Badminton changesmay yield fast times

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Most riders contesting the Mitsubishi Badminton Horse Trials from 4 to 7 May - in particular those who are keen to impress the Olympic selectors - will be pleased to know that the optimum cross-country time should be easier to achieve than last year.

Hugh Thomas, the director and course designer of the great event, has abandoned the twists and turns of 1999. These were introduced in order to slow down horses but they proved unnecessary because the muddy ground did that anyway.

If the going is good this year, Thomas expects to see "quite a few" finishing inside the time. "I've now accepted that it's going to happen if you have a nice course and good going," he said yesterday.

The safety of horse and rider has always been an important consideration, so no special concessions have been made in the construction of the fences after the five rider fatalities on other courses last year. Considerable efforts have, however, been made to ensure good ground in front of the obstacles.

Where fences are narrow, the take-off area has been dug out and filled with hard core and gravel before being re-turfed. In some cases the landing side has been given similar treatment.

The Lake fences (14 and 15) may prove even more influential than usual. The fast route requires the horse to jump out of water on to a platform and still retain enough impulsion to negotiate a big triple brush spread immediately afterwards.

Another innovation involves jumping across water and then over an intimidating bullfinch, The Shogun Sport, at fence 18.

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