The 2003 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials has got off to a wet start with riders trotting up their horses in torrential rain at the first horse inspection after a flash storm left a massive puddle on the concrete runway.

France’s Pierre de Bastard, with Athlete de la Cour, and Yorkshire rider Carole Dennis (Beckett ll) had anxious moments when their horses were sent to the holding box, but both passed at the second trot and will do dressage tomorrow.

Australia’s double Olympic gold medallist Phillip Dutton, who is highly successful on the American scene where he is based, kicked off the action this morning 9.30am on Caymen Went.

Judges are Australia’s Brian Schrapel (president), plus Ireland’s David Lee and Britain’s Sue Harry-Thomas, for whom it is a first four-star judging experience.

Pippa Funnell, the reigning champion, starts as favourite, having come fresh from spearheading a British one-two-three at the Rolex Kentucky three-day event last weekend. She rides her Badminton winner Supreme Rock and Cornerman, who has been fifth at Burghley.

Kentucky runner-up Polly Stockton rides two of Mark Todd’s former horses, Eye Spy ll, seventh last year, and Word For Word, runner-up at Burghley last autumn.

Third at Kentucky was William Fox-Pitt, who has made no secret of his burning ambition to win Badminton. He was runner-up last year on Tamarillo, whom he rides again, and his Burghley winner Highland Lad, who has less experience but massive jumping ability.

Leslie Law completed the British whitewash in the States when fifth on Shear L’Eau. His Badminton rides are Brer Rabbit and Shear H20, who has already been second and third here.

Leading overseas contenders include New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, who out of his plethora of rides has plumped for the Spanish-bred Fenicio, 8th at the World Games last year, and his Burghley 2000 winner Mr Smiffy.

His compatriot Blyth Tait has had to withdraw Ready Teddy but brings Eze for his Badminton debut, while Dan Jocelyn has two rides and Heelan Tompkins, who made an impressive debut last year with Crusada, 13th, has crossed the world to ride the veteran Glengarrick.

For Australia, there are Olympic gold medallists Matt Ryan (riding Balmoral Mr Slinky) and Andrew Hoy (Mr Pracatan and Moonfleet), while best of the Continental Europeans are World bronze medallist Pia Pantsu, who is bidding to be the first Finn to complete Badminton, Germany’s Bettina Hoy and Greece’s Heidi Antikazides.

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