Tapner returns to record another high point

Paul Tapner, who came over from Australia to win the Bramham Three-Day Event earlier this year on Highpoint, held the lead with the same horse when the dressage phase of the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials was completed yesterday.

Paul Tapner, who came over from Australia to win the Bramham Three-Day Event earlier this year on Highpoint, held the lead with the same horse when the dressage phase of the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials was completed yesterday.

As the competitors go into today's cross-country, Tapner is 6.4pts ahead of the two riders now in joint second - John-Paul Sheffield on the overnight leader, Catch the Tiger, and William Fox-Pitt on Tamarillo.

Tapner, who has been home to Sydney since his Bramham victory, is now looking for a base in England so he can continue to compete on Sarah Smith's Highpoint. The 10-year-old Polish gelding's dressage has improved after the 25-year-old Australian "ironed out a few little problems". Tapner had been hoping for fewer than 50 penalties, so was delighted to finish the dressage on a score of 38.6.

Highpoint, who had given his owner several falls before Tapner took him on, is competing at Blenheim with a view to tackling Badminton next May.

But the immediate challenge is today's cross- country course of 28 fences. Tapner, who walked the course here last year, although he was not competing, reckons the track is "a lot more technical" now than it was then.

He is considering taking the slow route at the Hook Norton Hop (fences 23 and 24), but will keep an open mind, saying: "I'll wait to see how the horse is feeling."

Sheffield will probably take all the direct routes on Catch the Tiger, although the rider has reservations concerning fence 20, where the quickest way over the first of three elements at the Dodson and Horrell Feedstore involves jumping a big corner. "I had a run-out there about four or five years ago on Bowfred," 26-year-old Sheffield said. "It was the only time Bowfred ever ran out."

Fox-Pitt rode his test on Tamarillo in heavy rain towards the end of the day, but was happy with his marks and with the weather. "We needed the rain - the ground would have been too firm without it," the rider said.

Tamarillo is just two points ahead of Fox-Pitt's other mount, Stunning, who is now lying fourth. Though both horses have shown good recent form, they could scarcely be more different. Eight-year-old Tamarillo, who is by a Polish Thoroughbred stallion and out of a part-Arab mare, has made good progress since Fox-Pitt began riding him a year ago.

Having won the two-star event at Blarney earlier this year, Tamarillo is now tackling his first three-star at Blenheim, which was seen as his next stepping-stone. "He's inexperienced to be here, but I believe he's ready," Fox-Pitt said.

Whereas Tamarillo is going up through the levels, 14-year-old Stunning, who was formerly partnered by Mark Todd, is taking a step back. "Stunning's never had much luck in four-stars," Fox-Pitt said. "He's very sensitive and more complicated than you might think. He'll be kept to three-star level from now on."

Kelli McMullen-Temple from Canada, now in fifth place on Kilkenny, was a last-minute entry for Blenheim. The 12-year-old horse, who was bred in Ireland, was due to fly to Sydney for the Olympics until going lame a quarter of an hour before the final trot-up. The abscess on his foot cleared up quickly, but by then McMullen-Temple's Olympic place had been given to another Canadian rider.

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