Great Britain, which has won eight out of the last nine runnings of the European Three-Day Event Championships, predictably starts hot favourite for the 2003 Championships at Punchestown, Ireland, which starts on Thursday 18 September.

The team is drawn sixth out of eight nations and, though fielding the same people who captured gold in Pau two years ago, sees changes to running order and horsepower; only Jeanette Brakewell’s veteran Over To You, now 15, and individual Tina Cook’s Captain Christy remain from last year’s World Games squad.

In a break from tradition, Leslie Law acts as trailblazer, as his nerves are apparently best allayed by running early; he also finds a different horse in Shear L’Eau, younger 10-year-old stablemate to his former team horse Shear H20.

Jeanette Brakewell, who has proved a reliable number one over four years, now goes second; Pippa Funnell, the reigning individual champion, is again at three but, due to her dual gold medallist Supreme Rock suffering a minor injury, rides Walk On Star, twice a winner at three-star level but an unknown quantity at championship level. William Fox-Pitt (pictured) is in his usual anchorman position but, due to Tamarillo’s injury, he rides Moon Man, third at Kentucky in April.

Mary King, riding as individual, is the only member of the squad who won gold when the Europeans were last run at Punchestown, in 1991. She had to be intercepted at Burghley just before going across country on King Solomon as Tina Cook had suffered a fall. Then, in a rollercoaster week for the selectors, Tina managed to get herself passed fit and was thus able to step in when Polly Stockton’s Tangleman suffered a bruised sole at the weekend.

France and Germany are perceived as the main threat to Britain; the French won silver in Pau and at WEG,+ and they tend to “go for it” across country with accuracy and verve, though they may find an Irish style course not to their taste.

The French team includes a star pair in Nicolas Touzaint and his lovely grey horse Galan de Savagere, unbeaten at two-star level, plus the reigning world champion Jean Teulere, who this time rides an eight-year-old, Hobby du Mee, as his Jerez mount Espoir de la Mere is lame.

Germany is desperate to qualify for the Olympics and therefore must finish among the best three unqualified teams (there are six unqualified nations at Punchestown: Germany, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Belgium and Sweden).

Germany’s best rider – and a strong candidate for the individual title – is Bettina Hoy, the 1997 champion riding Ringwood Cockatoo, who has 21 years’ senior team experience. The Germans have also annexed a former British Young Rider, Stefanie Thompson, as she can get a German passport through her mother.

As host nation, Ireland can field eight individual riders on top of a team of four, but their quartet is missing the strength of Jane O’Flynn, who lies injured in a Belfast hospital after a bad fall last month. Their number one, though, is the vastly experienced Sue Shortt, backed up by Austin O’Connor, former Young Rider World Champion Sherelle Duke and Trish Donegan, who went so well at Badminton on Don’t Step Back.

Seven countries failed to muster teams and therefore field individual riders: Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia, Greece and Spain. One notable absence is Finland’s Piia Pantsu, the world bronze medallist, who has eschewed the Europeans for the World Cup final and Athens.

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