There will be plenty to keep visitors to the Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials amused, including the last chance to see the British squad in action before the European Championships.

Running from 10-14 September, with the Duke of Marlborough’s home forming the glorious backdrop for the main arena, this popular event has become a victim of its own success this year and has been forced to ballot 73 combinations.

This still leaves 135 competitors from 18 nations competing for the £10,000 first prize, courtesy of sponsorship from Petplan. Former winners Pippa Funnell, William Fox-Pitt and Polly Stockton join the rest of the European Championship squad Leslie Law, Jeanette Brakewell and Tina Cook to spearhead the challenge for the home side.

Up-and-coming British contenders include World Class Performance Potential Squad members Lucy Wiegersma, Sarah Cutteridge, Terry Boon and Chris King, while Lisa Maynard is worth keeping an eye on, particularly if she chooses Blair CCI* 2001 winner Sky Sport from her double entered horses.

The Asia-Pacific Championships will be adding an extra dimension to the competition with Japan and New Zealand involved in a private battle for the last Olympic qualification. With a contingent of New Zealand-based riders competing alongside Dan Jocelyn, Andrew Nicholson and Blyth Tait for the Kiwis plus Aussie riders such as William Levett and Philip Dutton the challenge from down under is as strong as ever.

The six American riders are led by husband and wife duo, Karen and David O’Connor, as well as Amy Tryon who was 11th at Badminton last year with her Blenheim mount My Beau.

Click here for a complete list of runners.

Mike Etherington-Smith’s course is starting to shape up for the 2005 European Championships and boasts 15 changes. Mike warns: “I think it’s a shade more difficult than last year.”

If you can drag yourself away from the CCI*** action there’s plenty to attract those who aren’t die-hard eventing fans.

Fantastic family fun

A full day is planned for the main arena on Sunday 14 September, with the first batch of CCI*** show jumping preceding the Celebrity Pairs Cross-Country Challenge.

Coming at the end of Sunday morning’s main arena programme, the Celebrity Pairs Cross-Country Challenge, sponsored by Townfields Saddlers, is sure to prove a highlight.

Pitting pairs of famous riders drawn from every equestrian field against each other, the challenge involves jumping part of the cross-country course against the clock before taking your choice of show-jumping courses in the main arena. The odds on favourites must be legendary eventers Mark Todd and Ginny Elliot who clearly haven’t quite hung up their boots.

Richard Waygood will also have his work cut out, because as well as partnering Master Fred in the CCI***, he will be directing the Household Cavalry Musical Ride on Sunday afternoon.

The experts will be showing us all how to show jump on Sunday afternoon – or will they? Last year’s top five on Saturday night all failed to show jump clear, leaving the diminutive mare Headley Britannia and Lucinda Fredericks as winners from 6th place overnight.

If you just can’t get enough show jumping Ring Two will have Riding Club team show jumping on Thursday, 11 September and Pony Club team show jumping on Friday, 12 September.

Other attractions on Sunday will include a parade of the Heythrop hounds, while the Essex Dog Display Team will be sure to delight all the family. Horse trials visitors can also claim a special two-for-one deal on entry to Blenheim Palace.

Click here for the full timetable.

Shop ’til you drop

If the credit cards have survived Burghley, prepare for another onslaught. The retail village proudly presents 180 tradestands and on Friday, 12 September entry is free after 3pm with the shops keeping their tent flaps open until 6pm.

Make sure you don’t miss any of the action while you are busy shopping or eating by buying a mini-radio for £5 and tuning into Blenheim Petplan FM. On air from 7am every day, the station promises a mix of commentary, scoring updates, interviews and music from Sky Sport’s Alan Hyde and motorsport commentator Rick Smith.

Input also comes from dressage rider and former eventer Harriet Harrison, Nick Brooks-Ward, Australian rider Stuart Buntine and former World and European champion Ginny Elliot.

In addition Lucinda Fredericks will be joining the team: she won both the inaugural running of Blenheim and last year’s event but is leaving defending the title to husband Clayton as she is expecting her first child at the end of September.

Getting to Blenheim

Blenheim Palace is near Woodstock in Oxfordshire, between Bicester and Oxford. From the M40, take Junction 19 and follow signs. From the A40, take the A4095 through Witney and follow signs. From the A34, take the A44 at Oxford.

Admission costs £7 on Thursday and Friday, £17 on Saturday and £10 on Sunday. Covered grandstand seating costs £5 for Thursday and Friday (dressage) and £10.50 for Sunday (show jumping); children under 14 may enter all enclosures on all days for free if accompanied by an adult, or, if unaccompanied, will be charged half-price.

Visitors’ dogs must be kept on leads at all times and are not permitted in the grandstands or the members’ enclosure pavilion.

For more information call the 24hr box office (tel: 0870 8300200) or visit: www.blenheim-horse.co.uk