Equestrianism: Funnell maintains good form as British sextet prepare to take on Europe's finest

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The Independent Online

After her emotional victory at Burghley on Sunday, Pippa Funnell was able to enjoy a quiet afternoon at the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials. One of 20 competitors to ride their dressage tests yesterday at this over-subscribed event in the lovely grounds of the Duke of Marlborough's palace, she nevertheless maintained her good form to take an early lead on Sue Bunn's home-bred stallion, Viceroy.

With two full days of dressage to come, Funnell holds a 1.2pt advantage over Marcia Kulak of the United States on Horton Who, with William Fox-Pitt 7.2pts further back in third place on Tom Cruise.

Blenheim's competitors include all six members of the Great Britain squad for next week's European Three-Day Event Championships at Punchestown in Ireland - Funnell, Fox-Pitt, Jeanette Brakewell and Leslie Law, who will ride for the team, plus Polly Stockton and Mary King, who compete as individuals. King was brought into the squad last Saturday, when she was asked to withdraw King Solomon III from the cross-country at Burghley so that she could replace Kristina Gifford, who had taken a crashing fall.

Gifford has been passed fit to ride at Blenheim, so she is bound to feel aggrieved at being demoted to reserve for the championships, but the selectors were faced with an awkward dilemma and the need for a quick decision. King, who was third at Burghley last year and fourth at Badminton in May, must have been aggrieved when she was not chosen for the squad in the first place.

Blenheim incorporates the Asia-Pacific Championships in which New Zealand riders have their last chance to qualify for next year's Olympic Games in Athens. They will need to beat Japan to achieve this goal which, barring unlucky mishaps, should not be too daunting a task for them.

BLENHEIM PETPLAN INTERNATIONAL HORSE TRIALS (Woodstock, Oxon): Standings after first 20 dressage tests: 1 Viceroy (P Funnell, GB) 42.0 penalties; 2 Tom Cruise (W Fox-Pitt, GB) 50.4; 3 Double Dealer (A Lidar, Swe) 55.4.

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