Todd in the mood for Badminton

Genevieve Murphy talks to the New Zealander hoping to retain his title at the three-day event, which begins today
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The Independent Online
Mark Todd has two regular partners, Just an Ace and Bertie Blunt, to ride at the Badminton Three-Day Event which begins this morning. This does not necessarily make it easier than last year, when the brilliant New Zealander won the Mitsubishi Trophy on a last-minute ride, Horton Point. But it does mean that he starts with shorter odds.

A repeat of last year's victory may depend on how the two horses that Todd rides for Bond International feel on the day they do their dressage. "Ace can get a bit tense, but he never does a bad test - it's either average or good," he said of the horse he rides this morning. "Bertie has the potential to do much better dressage, but we'll have to see whether he's in the right frame of mind."

Bertie Blunt was "a complete lunatic" when competing in a pre-Badminton dressage show last month. The chestnut's diet has since been changed to a lower-energy feed, but Todd is nevertheless pleased that the horse will not be doing his dressage until tomorrow afternoon. "That gives me time to put some work into him," he said.

Both horses have been "in wonderful form" across country this spring, and Todd is looking forward to riding them over the 30 daunting fences on Saturday. If they are among the leaders as they go into Sunday's show jumping, which is the final round, he will be aware that both are reliable jumpers - "but not incapable of having a rail down."

Andrew Nicholson, Todd's New Zealand team-mate on many occasions, will be the first to start in both the dressage and cross-country with Spinning Rhombus. Last to go will be Mary Thomson on King Will-iam, the horse she rode to win a team gold medal at last year's World Equestrian Games.

Thomson and the three other women on the victorious British team (Karen Dixon, Charlotte Bathe and Kristina Gifford) will be hoping for a better result than last year at Badminton, where four New Zealanders and the United States rider, Bruce Davidson, filled the top five places.

Davidson, who has twice held the world title, is back for another attempt at his first Badminton win. He rides Eagle Lion, who was fourth last year, but has withdrawn his other intended partner, Regent Lion.

The three leading horses at last year's Burghley Three-Day Event are among the 79 in contention: Chaka (the mount of William Fox-Pitt), King Kong (with Thomson) and Too Smart (the talented nine-year-old partner of Dixon).

If the record first prize of £22,250 is to go to a British rider, you would expect to see Thomson, Dixon or Fox-Pitt as the recipient. But all three know that Todd, Olympic champion in 1984 and 1988, is likely to take some catching if his two mounts are in the mood for dressage.

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