Equestrianism: Funnell gives Walk On Star his big chance

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The Independent Online

Pippa Funnell had an unwelcome distraction from her hectic schedule when her handbag was stolen during the prize-giving presentation that followed her victory at Blenheim. She was without money, credit cards or passport when she arrived in Ireland, where she will attempt to gain a third consecutive European title - and her third victory in successive weekends - in the European Three-Day Event Championships that begin this morning.

Funnell won her two titles on Supreme Rock, who is now sidelined with a minor injury. This time she will be on the less experienced Walk On Star and she believes that she will have some of the pressure taken off her as a result.

The 10-year-old bay has won both his three-star events - at Bramham last year and at Saumur in France in May - but this will be his most demanding test to date. "There are some big questions for him, including about seven water fences," she said.

The British are firm favourites for the team title, having won it on the last four occasions. This time Yogi Breisner, the Swedish team manager, has departed from his usual plan by putting Leslie Law - rather than the regular pathfinder, Jeanette Brakewell - as first to go. "Leslie does a very good job going early, as he showed at Lexington and Badminton this year," Breisner said. "Jeanette will be second for the team, she does well wherever she goes."

Funnell and William Fox-Pitt will be third and fourth for the team, with Mary King and Kristina Cook competing as individuals. "We have six great horses and six fantastic riders, who are all focused on the job," Breisner said yesterday.

Though Walk On Star lacks experience, Funnell hopes to get away to a good start after the horse's performance at Burghley, where he was withdrawn after finishing eighth in the dressage. "I was chuffed to be in the top eight, especially as I hadn't practised some of the movements," she said.

Britain and France are already qualified for next year's Olympic three-day event in Athens, but the other six teams in contention - Italy, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Belgium and Germany - will be eager to secure one of the three places on offer here.