Burghley Horse Trials: Fox-Pitt claims first and third spots after zinging in the rain

With two masterful displays of cross-country riding, William Fox-Pitt made light of difficult conditions to take a useful lead on Tamarillo in the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials yesterday and third position with Ballincoola.

They are separated by the Australian Philip Dutton, now ridingfor America, where he lives,on Woodburn, a speedy New Zealand thoroughbred.

Fox-Pitt's Olympic team-mate Mary King stands fourth and fifth with Imperial Cavalier and Apache Sauce, the former's superior dressage score offsetting his slower cross-country time as, going last of all, they had to contend with heavy rain on already sodden ground.

The course designer, Mark Phillips, expressed himself "hugely relieved" at the end of a roller-coaster day on which 28 of the 59 starters went unpen-alised at the obstacles, with just three finishing inside the time allowed, but many high-profile riders went home disappointed.

They included Phillips' daughter Zara, one of the six riders to fall, and therefore retire, at the deceptive mushroom-shaped Fence 25 after an otherwise good round. The dressage leaders, Ruth Edge on Mr Dumbledore, and Lucy Wiegersma (Shaabrak) both pulled out after singlemistakes.

The 2004 winner, Andrew Hoy on Moonfleet, fellowAustralian Matt Ryan with Bonza Puzzle and British hope Oliver Townend riding Flint Curtis, also retired after faulting.

It was disappointing for the spectators, with so many gaps interrupting the action due to riders retiring early, withdrawing before the start or falls which forced following riders tobe halted until it was safe to restart. The Burghley team had a massive task to keep the show going at all and, as Phillips pointed out, the riders had much the best of the ground with their "four-wheel drive" partners.

The day started well as the trailblazing Rosie Thomas attacked the testing course in positive style on Barry's Best to finish without either jumping or time penalties.

She made it look easy, but despite the removal of three jumps and one back rail, the difficulty was truly four-star standard, regardless of weatherand underfoot conditions, while the designated time of 11min 30sec proved too quick for all but Barry's Best, Woodburnand Tamarillo.

Many struggled to complete, and Phillips' first ride, Glenbuck, pulled up a long way from home, but Tamarillo appeared to skip across the ground with ease, despite going three from last in a deluge. "He was incredible, really good fun to ride today," said the rider of the 16-year-old.

Earlier, Fox-Pitt was at his best on Ballincoola, not a fast horse, but a genuine, powerful jumper. They took the shortest route, earning just 2.8 time penalties.

While future stars, human or equine, are slow to emerge at this level, riders could do no better than learn from Fox-Pitt, Dutton or King, who dominated their rivals yesterday. Fox-Pitt goes into today's showjumping phase with a 10.4 point lead, or more than two fences in hand. But going last in these conditions, he will not be complacent.

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