The Olympians will have their thoughts turned exclusively towards Athens as the Festival of British Eventing gets underway at Gatcombe tomorrow, but while the likes of Tamarillo and Primmore’s Pride prepare to board their plane at Luton on Saturday evening, there will be plenty of talent on show in Gloucestershire over the next three days.

Some international Olympic combinations are due to make an appearance, with the American eventing team out in force in a last-minute run before Athens. Andrew Nicholson (New Zealand) fits in a run with Duddles before heading out to the Olympics, and even William Fox-Pitt is squeezing in a dressage test on Idalgo.

In the British Open Championship, Andrew Nicholson rides both of his Olympic prospects, and there are several other names which have featured regularly this season, and several who enjoyed success here last year.

Richard Waygood returns with Master Fred, and Bermuda’s M.J. Tumbridge with Ginger May Killinghurst. Polly Stockton rides three horses, including the Athens short-listed Tangleman, while Lucy Wiegersma takes over the ride on In the Purple from youngster Matthew Wright.

The competition in all three of the championships looks set to be as hot as ever, with no concessions made for the absence of our Olympic riders. Course designer Captain Mark Phillips commented: “With the British Olympic Team already in Athens and many others departing for Greece next week, I should maybe have made the cross country courses for this year’s Festival a little easier.

“In reality though The Festival is The Festival and those that win the coveted honour of being one of the National Champions should I believe have truly earned that title,” he added.

As testing as ever, the cross-country course has some familiar aspects to it, but there are some serious questions asked early on, and total commitment is absolutely of the essence for success.

One notable absence will be Zara Phillips, who had been due to compete in the Novice Championships. She could have been a particularly appropriate winner as the event is held in her mother’s back garden, and her father, has designed the cross-country course.

British Eventing rules state, however, that if a rider is unconscious, the minimum mandatory suspension is 21 days. Spectators are unlikely to see any of the heroics of earlier this week, when Zara’s mother, Princess Anne, took over her daughter’s ride at Smith’s Lawn on Blue Plaid.

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