Golf: Custom Made fits bill for O'Connor

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED STATES partnership of David O'Connor and Custom Made, the winners at Badminton in 1997, produced the outstanding test of the Blenheim International Horse Trials and now hold a seven-point advantage as riders prepare to tackle today's 28 cross-country fences.

Custom Made, who sustained a tendon injury at Burghley two years ago, is using this event in his "step-by-step progression" back to the bigger contests (starting with Kentucky or Badminton in the spring) that O'Connor hopes to ride him in next year.

Mark Todd, who filled first and third places at Burghley last weekend, had earlier taken the advantage here - only to be pushed back to second by the American's polished test. The phenomenal New Zealander was riding Just a Mission, a big grey gelding of 17.1 hands who has taken time to gain enough strength to carry himself correctly. Nine-year-old Just a Mission is now one point ahead of Dag Albert of Sweden on Joli Smart, with Philip Dutton of Australia another point further back on House Doctor.

The cross-country course which riders will tackle today is widely regarded as easier than last year. Todd described the track as "little more than a strong two-star course". He will, of course, treat it with respect. "We can all make mistakes," Todd said. After four rider fatalities this year, everyone is desperately anxious for a trouble-free cross-country here. "The course is veering on the easy side, but that must be right after all that's happened recently," Mary King, now lying 10th on King William, said.

Blenheim is a qualifier for the Badminton Horse Trials and the Olympic Games next year. With an easier track, good clear rounds here will not necessarily equip horses and riders for these sterner challenges.

BLENHEIM PETPLAN INTERNATIONAL HORSE TRIALS (Woodstock, Oxon): After dressage phase: 1 Custom Made (D O'Connor, US) 66 penalties; 2 Just a Mission (M Todd, NZ) 73; 3 Joli Smart (D Albert, Swe) 74; 4 House Doctor (P Dutton, Aus) 75; 5 Over the Limit (K Vinoski, US) 76; 6 Primitive Control (C Pratt, GB) 77.