Equestrian: Phillips to spearhead challenge

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The Independent Online

Zara Phillips will be the first to go for Britain when the Team Challenge gets under way today at the UAE International Horse Trials, where some of the world's best riders are assembled for this inaugural contest.

Zara Phillips will be the first to go for Britain when the Team Challenge gets under way today at the UAE International Horse Trials, where some of the world's best riders are assembled for this inaugural contest.

The cross-country phase of the three-day event will still be in progress when Phillips rides her dressage test, a point which had not escaped the team captain, William Fox-Pitt yesterday when he chose the Princess Royal's 23-year-old daughter to go first of the quartet. Her experienced mount, Springleaze Macaroo, is not expected to be too intoxicated by the sight of the other horses galloping past.

Pippa Funnell goes next for Britain and if the expected rain has softened the ground to her liking, she will be on her Olympic mount, Primmore's Pride. She will be followed by two of her Olympic team-mates - Fox-Pitt on Stunning and Sarah Cutteridge on The Master's Lady.

Team tactics will be important as the rules are based on Ryder Cup lines, with points awarded according to the place in which riders finish in their group. Phillips would appear to be in the most competitive group, which includes the other three team captains - the reigning US Olympic champion, David O'Connor, Australia's triple Olympic team gold medallist, Andrew Hoy, and his German wife, Bettina.

Terry Boon maintained the substantial 6.2-point lead which he had established on Thursday with Drivetime, when the dressage phase of the three-day event was completed yesterday. Polly Williamson, Patricia Polson and Cressida Clague Reading have also held on to their overnight order and they fill the next three places as 123 horses prepare for today's cross-country.

Franck Bourny, currently in fifth for France with Belmont on the Road, and Fox-Pitt, who moved into sixth on Birthday Night, were the only two to disturb Thursday's top 10. Fox-Pitt described today's 20-fence cross-country course as "a fantastic and very well presented two-star track, with a lot of narrow fences that could catch you out."

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