Equestrianism: Funnell is left behind by Billard

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The Independent Online

Amelie Billard, an 18-year-old Frenchwoman who is about to read law at Angers University, had the distinction of improving on Pippa Funnell's dressage score when she took the lead at the Blenheim International Horse Trials yesterday on Derby de Longueval. She was bemused by her early lead as she had not believed it possible that she could be ahead of Funnell at a contest in England, where she is competing for the first time.

Billard, who holds an advantage of 8.4pts over Funnell on Viceroy, won individual and team gold medals at the Junior European Championships with the same horse two years ago. She is already seen as a potential star in France, although she is hardly known here.

Mike Etherington-Smith, who designed the Blenheim course, will have a key role to play in Olympic preparations when he builds a four-star track for April's new "Olympic format" contest at Lexington, Kentucky in the United States. It will be similar to the cross-country in Athens, with the road, track and steeplechase phases omitted, and could be a crucial selection trial for a number of countries, including the United States and Britain.

Yogi Breisner, the Great Britain performance manager, is in favour of sending a sizeable contingent of British riders to Lexington, although this depends on lottery funds.