The cross-country course at Blenheim had elicited praise from every direction earlier this week, but the leader board after today’s competition proved that it had posed a variety of tricky questions.

But amidst the pandemonium of 21 retirements on the course and 11 eliminations, as well as several unexpected run-outs and dangerous moments, Pippa Funnell provided a ray of light with a quick enough round on Viceroy II to finish well and truly in the lead, with two fences in hand going into the show jumping.

But the quickest time of the day was produced by youngster Matthew Wright on Park Pilot.

Matthew said: “The track consisted of combination after combination, so you really had to think a lot. I wasn’t concerned when I walked it, I really hadn’t expected much trouble, and certainly not as much as there was today. But my horse is quick – quicker than Polly [Jackson’s] at least.”

Polly Jackson sits just 1.4 penalties ahead of Matthew in third place. She had 6.8 time penalties on Two for Joy, a little horse at 15.2hh.

“I had to persuade one of the stewards that I was actually riding in the three-day event”, says Polly. “They though I was just doing Pony Club show jumping.

“He probably measures 14.2hh on his rump, and he used to get squeezed into pony showing classes as 15hh, but he’d like to think he’s Murphy Himself, and he tries to take strides out all over the place.”

When Polly bought the gelding four years ago, he was still a novice aged 10. But since then, the combination has shone on the eventing circuit, and Two for Joy was entered for Badminton, although wet conditions meant he was forced to miss his final qualifying run.

“He was entered for Burghley as well,” continues Polly, “but I was taking Limestone Rise, and so I thought I’d come here to get a bit of inside knowledge on the Europeans for next year. I didn’t imagine we’d end up where we are!”

First and last to go today, with Henry Tankerville this morning and Flush Banker this afternoon, Andrew Nicholson sneaked into second place with a faultless cross-country on the 11-year-old Flush Banker.

The thoroughbred is a cross-country machine, generally capable of matching the quickest, and Andrew had the advantage of having been round the course once, with a stop on the much less experienced Henry Tankerville.

“It was quite a big question for a young horse,” the New Zealander said. “He has plenty of jump in him and he is very honest, but there is jumping effort after jumping effort, and there are no let-up fences, which you wouldn’t expect at this level. On Henry Tankerville, after five minutes I just wanted a couple of easy fences, to reward him for the others.”

Although several combinations failed to finish today, in what were near perfect conditions – decent ground with no rain to make it greasy, and a cooling breeze, Polly Jackson stressed that she didn’t believe that this was down to the new format.

“Basically, I am pretty much in favour of the short format – it doesn’t take so much out of the horse. It was a big course which is why there were so many retirements – they certainly shouldn’t be put down to the change in format.”

Andrew Nicholson was more emphatic in his blame of the riders rather than the format itself: “I was watching from my lorry, and there were riders whizzing round the first corner, just not going steadily enough early on. You did have to take into consideration the two stretches of water, each 60-70m, which really slowed you up later on in the course, but there were a lot of questions, and you had to save enough to answer them.”

The overnight leader, Ruth Friend, had never looked completely comfortable on Two Thyme. She had a stop early on, and the gelding then dug his feet in going into the Petplan pond. She eventually retired after falling victim to fence 19 – a combination including two narrow triple brushes which also accounted for Leslie Law, Jeanette Brakewell and Chris King.

William Fox-Pitt was also eliminated at this fence with Moon Man, with the 13-year-old gelding decided once again that he was going to go no further. He has failed to complete a CCI competition this season, deciding at Badminton to pull himself up at the penultimate fence, and similarly refusing to continue at Bramham in June.

Blenheim results after the cross-country
1. Viceroy II (Pippa Funnell) 42.4
2. Flush Banker (Andrew Nicholson NZL) 52.0
3. Two for Joy (Polly Jackson) 53.2
4. Park Pilot (Matthew Wright) 54.6
5. In the Purple (Lucy Wiegersma) 55.2
6. Osh Kosh (Francis Whittington) 55.6