King gets lift from Star Appeal

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Mary King held the lead on Star Appeal after the first day of dressage was completed at the Burghley Pedigree Chum Horse Trials in warm sunshine yesterday. The Irish-bred gelding, who was fourth here two years ago, produced the best test of his career to overtake the long-time leader, Pippa Funnell, on the little skewbald Bits and Pieces.

King said Star Appeal finds the dressage difficult, but he has nevertheless "come on by leaps and bounds." She is hoping that she can contain his enthusiasm over the cross-country, and that his accident-prone days (which included a broken leg when kicked by another horse in his field and a poisoned foot after treading on a nail) are over.

"Star Appeal tends to get very excited when he is galloping," King said. "Quite a lot depends on the way I ride him; if I can be quiet with him early on and not try to dominate him, he usually settles better."

King was glad to see some big fences at the start of the course, as they should help her partner concentrate on jumping. She is also relying on new tack (a Dutch gag with a Waterford mouthpiece and a controller noseband) to provide effective brakes.

Funnell's mount, Bits and Pieces, was impressive when he won at Blenheim last year and there will be much interest in watching him tackle his first four-star course. Funnell is one of the riders who has help from Mark Phillips, who designed the cross-country course here.

Didier Seguret of France is just 0.2pt behind Funnell on Coeur de Rocker, and behind the Frenchman come Andrew Nicholson on last year's winner, Buckley Province, and America's Mark Weissbecker on Best Seller, who are now lying joint fourth. Rodney Powell and the reformed Comic Relief, who gave him a terrible ride at Badminton where he had the worst dressage score of all, is sixth.

Phillips is hoping that no more than two or three horses finish within the optimum time over the cross-country. Having considered the quality of the field, which includes the last two Badminton winners - Eagle Lion, who was the victor with Bruce Davidson in 1995 and Bertie Blunt, who triumphed with Mark Todd this year - Phillips now thinks that four or five horses may get home within the time tomorrow. "But I would be very surprised, and not at all pleased, if we had a many as nine or 10," he said.

BURGHLEY HORSE TRIALS (Stamford) Standings after first day of dressage: 1 Star Appeal (M King, GB) 43.4 penalties; 2 Bits and Pieces (P Funnell, GB) 47.4; 3 Coeur de Rocker (D Siguret, Fr) 47.6; 4= Buckley Province (A Nicholson, NZ) and Best Seller (M Weissbecker, US) 55.4; 6 Comic Relief (R Powell, GB) 56.0.