Equestrianism: Funnell focuses on Athens and tips 'rival' to win Badminton

Pippa Funnell is happy to describe her long-standing friend and "arch rival", William Fox-Pitt, as the hot favourite for the Badminton Horse Trials, which begin this morning in Gloucestershire with the first of two days of dressage before Saturday's cross country and Sunday's final show-jumping event.

Pippa Funnell is happy to describe her long-standing friend and "arch rival", William Fox-Pitt, as the hot favourite for the Badminton Horse Trials, which begin this morning in Gloucestershire with the first of two days of dressage before Saturday's cross country and Sunday's final show-jumping event.

"William will be riding his two top horses, Tamarillo and Moon Man,'' Funnell said. "I'll be on Viceroy, who has never been tried at Badminton before and Cornerman, who was sixth here last year but can be a little bit tricky. I won't be under the same amount of pressure as last year, when I was defending my title with Supreme Rock. The Olympic Games are my number-one priority at the moment, so I'm just hoping to enjoy myself this week.''

Funnell could, however, be kidding herself if she thinks that little is expected of her as she attempts to gain her third consecutive Badminton victory and so equal the long-standing record set by Sheila Willcox, who claimed the last leg of this elusive treble 45 years ago. Last year, Funnell achieved an equally remarkable treble within just six months by winning Lexington and Burghley on Primmore's Pride (her intended Olympic partner) and Badminton on Supreme Rock.

Badminton will be a more crucial test for Fox-Pitt this time, since the enormously talented Tamarillo (runner-up in this annual classic in 2002) still has to qualify for Athens. Last year the horse was withdrawn on the morning of the cross country when he was found to have some heat and discomfort in the splint bone area of the near foreleg and this will be his first three-day event since then. Fox-Pitt's Moon Man, however, has his qualification and looks to be a thoroughly reliable understudy for the Olympics.

In the absence of the United States riders, who are usually a potent force at Badminton, and without the leading French men who were so impressive in last year's European Championships, this could be the year for some of the younger Britons to break through and, perhaps, claim one of the five places on the Olympic team.

The selectors will be keeping a beady eye on Sarah Cutteridge and The Wexford Lady, who made a big impression when fifth at Burghley last year. Ruth Friend, Chris King and the 21-year-old Matthew Wright, who is the youngest rider in the field, will also be looking to make their mark.

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