Zara Phillips kept her Olympic dream alive with an eye-catching display in the final trial for London 2012 yesterday. While the in-form world and British No 1 William Fox-Pitt dominated the Bramham International Horse Trials – winning both the three-star classes – the 2006 world champion Phillips staked her claim with the Great Britain selectors Ian Stark, Mandy Stibbe and Angela Tucker by thriving under pressure on High Kingdom.
With the selectors meeting in order to announce their eventing team of five for London later this week, her performance could not have been better timed as she secured a third-placed CIC finish behind Fox-Pitt and the New Zealander Andrew Nicholson.
Phillips, whose 2004 and 2008 Olympic selection hopes were dashed by injuries to her former top horse Toytown, beat fellow London contenders Nicola Wilson, Tina Cook, Laura Collett and Lucy Wiegersma, although they also all performed impressively.
While Fox-Pitt, Wilson, Mary King and Piggy French are widely expected to be picked for London, the fifth spot appears to be a battle between at least five riders, including the 31-year-old Phillips. "Everyone is fighting to get on the team, especially with the Olympics being on home ground," said Phillips, the Queen's grand-daughter.
"He [High Kingdom] has improved loads this year, and it has been great to have had the opportunity to really show to everyone what he can do. He is constantly improving and we are fighting for our spot.
"Competition is so strong that it is probably tougher for the selectors than anyone else. Everybody wants to be at the Olympics, and I am no exception. He had a double clear inside the time and a personal best dressage. Hopefully, they will see that he has improved and might get even better.
"It was probably good to have a bit of pressure on here and to see if we could come up with the goods. He is pretty different from Toytown. Toytown loved the crowds and being at big competitions. This guy is pretty relaxed and just gets on with it."
The GB team manager Yogi Breisner said he was "very pleased" with Phillips' performance, and anticipated a long selection meeting at the final deliberations at Bramham House in Yorkshire on London combinations.
"I don't think it will be an easy decision because I think there are quite a few of them that both here and at Houghton International two weeks ago have put up some pretty smart performances," Breisner said.
"Looking at the horses here now, they are just starting to come into gear, which I rather like. Experience from a rider's point of view is very much key, and there are riders that are in form, performing well. From a horse's point of view, traditionally in Olympic Games, inexperienced horses have often done well, but they still need to be horses of the right calibre in the right sort of form.
"You can't just select on one result and one competition, you have to look at the overall picture and look at what the horses have done in the past."
Fox-Pitt wrapped up Bramham's CIC class by going clear inside the time on Neuf des Coeurs, which should put the horse in Olympics selection contention alongside Lionheart and his double four-star winner Parklane Hawk.