Britain's Olympic prospects, which have been diminished recently by injuries to key athletes such as Paula Radcliffe and Jessica Ennis, took another turn for the worse yesterday when it was announced that Zara Phillips, the eventing world champion, will miss the Beijing Games because of an injury to her horse, Toytown.
Unlike Radcliffe, who is struggling to recover from a stress fracture of the femur, or Ennis, one of UK Athletics' brightest young talents, who is out with a broken ankle, the daughter of the Princess Royal is in sound health.
Unfortunately, however, Britain's Olympic eventing team selects on the basis of partnerships between riders and horses and, as Phillips has no horse in reserve – unlike two of her team-mates – she has no option but to sit out the Games.
Toytown was discovered to be carrying a minor injury, believed to have been picked up within the last week, when he was inspected by a vet at a British team training session in Stow-on-the-Wold on Tuesday. The horse, who was bought in 1999, is expected to return to competitive fitness soon – but not soon enough for Beijing.
Britain's hopes in eventing are high, given that four years ago at Athens they won gold and bronze through Leslie Law and Pippa Funnell respectively, as well as taking the team silver. Although the team still includes proven performers such William Fox-Pitt and Mary King, Phillips's absence will certainly be felt.
"I am very disappointed not to have the opportunity to ride at the Olympic Games and feel that Toytown deserved his chance to go," said Phillips. "However, with horses, these thing happen and we still have a very strong team. I wish them every success."
Phillips experienced a similar upset when Toytown had to pull out injured three months before the 2004 Athens Olympics. On that occasion, Phillips was only on the long-list for selection but since then she has established herself at the forefront of her event, winning individual and team gold at the 2005 European Championships and adding the individual world title the following year, which was rounded off with her being named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
A reserve rider and horse combination will now be selected by the British Olympic Association after nomination from the British Equestrian Federation.
Will Connell, team leader for the equestrian team, said: "The British team are saddened by the news, especially for Zara and her team. We have a strong team of reserves and the team are now focused on trying to win medals."
In recent years, Phillips has attempted to safeguard Toytown's fitness by competing sparingly on him, choosing instead to ride one of the other promising young horses she is bringing on in her yard at the family home of Gatcombe Park, near Stroud, where she lives with England and Lions rugby union player Mike Tindall.
Last September, she and Toytown helped Britain earn team gold in the European Championships at Pratoni del Vivaro, in Italy, but Phillips left the ring in tears after her horse stopped in the showjumping section to deny her the chance of defending her individual title.Reuse content