Todd hoping to bow out with a stirring display

Mark Todd's final event in England begins this morning, when he rides Just a Mission in the dressage phase of the Burghley Pedigree Horse Trials. On Monday the "Horseman of the Century" (as he was named this year) flies to Sydney for the Olympics. When the Games are over, he will retire from the sport and return home to New Zealand.

Mark Todd's final event in England begins this morning, when he rides Just a Mission in the dressage phase of the Burghley Pedigree Horse Trials. On Monday the "Horseman of the Century" (as he was named this year) flies to Sydney for the Olympics. When the Games are over, he will retire from the sport and return home to New Zealand.

Just a Mission, a grey 10-year-old, was one of three horses Todd put in quarantine in preparation for the Olympics. In the end, the other two - Diamond Hall Red and Eyespy II - were flown out to Sydney, but it was a close-run decision.

"I found it impossible to choose between them, so I left it to the selectors," Todd said.

Just a Mission led after the dressage at Lexington in Kentucky this year, but he was not at his best when collecting steeplechase and cross-country time faults there, eventually finishing in eighth place. It was later thought that he had picked up a virus on the journey. Concern as to how he might cope with the long flight to Sydney was one of the reasons why he was not chosen for the Olympics.

"If the horse is in top form, he has as good a chance as any," Todd said of his Burghley prospects. He would naturally love to complete his 20-odd years in Britain with a sixth Burghley victory but, despite the absence of the Olympic horses, he will have some tough opposition.

Among the favourites are Christopher Bartle with the 1998 Badminton winner, Word Perfect II, William Fox-Pitt and Moon Man, with whom he won the British Open at Gatcombe, and Bettina Overesch, who was astonishingly omitted from the German Olympic team with the Punchestown runner-up, Unsung Hero.

Burghley is also the culmination of the daunting target which Vere Phillipps set himself at the start of the year, when he decided that he would try to qualify for the event with Coral Cove, formerly ridden by his late wife, Polly.

Considering that he had never evented before, qualification was a great feat in itself. If he can jump a clear round over the four-star cross-country track on Saturday, it would be a phenomenal achievement.

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