Equestrianism: Fox-Pitt triumphs as British highlight strength in depth

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The Independent Online

William Fox-Pitt concluded a fraught four days at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in the best way possible when he rode Tamarillo to his first victory in this annual classic, gaining his Olympic qualification in the process after the horse's year off through injury. In the lead overnight after a wonderful cross-country round, he was given some extra leeway in yesterday's final show jumping when his nearest rival, New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson on Lord Killingshurst, incurred eight jumping penalties for two fences down and another two for exceeding the time.

Although so much was resting on his show jumping round, Fox-Pitt said that he felt "quite relaxed" going into the arena. "The horse is a very careful jumper and I knew I had fences in hand," he said, "but I have to admit that we were anything but foot perfect today." He nevertheless held on to his lead after lowering two fences, defeating Nicholson and a delighted Bumble Thomas (who still answers to the nickname that her father gave her as a child) on The Psephologist. She has her sights set on gaining one of five places on the British Olympic team and will have come closer to fulfilling that dream after a fine all-round performance here.

The British selectors saw much to encourage them with seven home riders finishing in the top 10. James Robinson was fourth on Comanche; Jeanette Brakewell was seventh on the regular team horse, Over to You; Sarah Cutteridge finished eighth and 10th on The Wexford Lady and Exclusive Imp; Matthew Wright, at 21 the youngest competitor here, was ninth on Mallards Treat.

Funnell's misfortunes occurred when first Viceroy II and then Cornerman clobbered the gate going into Huntsman's Close (the 21st of 32 cross-country fences), landing so steeply that the rider inevitably hit the floor. She had a quick trip to hospital after the earlier mishap, having sustained a wound from the stud in Viceroy's front shoe when the horse trod on her, but she was riding Cornerman in commendably positive style until coming to grief for the second time. Other notable departures occurred when Shear H20 deposited Leslie Law in The Lake (fence 17) and when Polly Stockton, who had fallen a week earlier at Lexington in Kentucky, took another nasty tumble with Tangle Man at the second part of the Outlander tree trunks (fence 28).

Fox-Pitt had also failed to finish with his first mount, Moon Man, who ran out of steam at the Countryside Alliance Quarry and refused it twice before being retired. On account of that experience, he had been on the point of withdrawing Tamarillo before the cross-country. However, having talked to Lucinda Green, the chairman of the British selectors, and the team manager, Yogi Breisner, he was persuaded to run after all. By the time he changed his mind, the ground jury had extended the optimum time for the steeplechase course where the stamina of early horses (among them Moon Man) had been severely tested by the holding ground. The enthusiastic crowds would otherwise have been deprived of a fine British victory.

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