Funnell credits brave mare

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For the third time in the four-year history of the competition, Pippa Funnell rode to victory in the Lotus Eventing Grand Prix at Hickstead.

Aboard the brilliant grey mare The Tourmaline Road, owned by Anne Burnett, she jumped yesterday's only clear round, with a beautiful display of precision, speed, courage and concentration.

After last year's fiasco when so many of the world's best showjumpers and eventers failed to compete, and falls and refusals marred the contest, the course was slightly and successfully modified to provide greater entertainment.

Most of the elite returned, lured by the winner's prize of a Lotus Elise car and generous place money, and they were better prepared for the special challenges of this unique event which sees 15 showjumpers take on their eventing counterparts.

A special kind of horse is needed as the fences are big, varied and provide an all-round test. They include all the obstacles in the main arena, the lake, the famous bank, the road jump, Devil's Dyke, as well as numerous ditches.

As Michael Whitaker, the best of showjumping's representatives for the second successive year, said afterwards: "It's a lot different. We are not used to jumping out of the arena over big holes.''

Among those eliminated early on course were the Irish show-jumper Cian O'Conner and Dermot Lennon and the Olympic eventers David Green and William Fox-Pitt. Gary Parsonage showed what could be done. With Just So II, his partner when winning in 1999, he improved after lowering a rail on fence two to record a time of 206.9secs. It was beaten only by Whitaker, putting in a real horseman's ride on Evening Masquerade, who tired towards the end of a demanding track.

Funnell, riding last, was cheered through the last part of the course to register a faultless 207.48. She gave the credit to a mare considered too extravagant a jumper to withstand the rigours of top-grade three-day events

"We had to go much faster this year to win,'' she said. "Which helped. I kept going and took chances, and she loves that. The fences come up so quick, there's hardly time to breathe. I'm exhausted.'' But she looked fresh enough collecting the spoils, while the runners-up were left to wonder if they could have done anything to beat her.

"The only way I could win was to nick her horse,'' said Whitaker.