Pulses were racing at Badminton on Saturday evening as the cross-country phase drew to an exciting close. At the beginning of the day, it seemed as if the going would wreak havoc, but as the rain stopped, riders settled somewhat into Hugh Thomas’ testing course.

The biggest upset was to eventing’s golden girl, Pippa Funnell, who had caused hearts to stop this morning when she crashed to the ground after Viceroy II hit the first gate into The Huntsman’s Close (fence 21) hard with his front feet.

After being airlifted to hospital, Britain’s leading Olympic hope was given the all clear, and told to find her own way back. She did, just, and started a determined round on Cornerman. All seemed to be going well as she approached the problem fence. But then, in an extraordinary turn of events, history repeated itself.

Cornerman touched the gate with his forelegs, and Pippa fell in exactly the same spot, ruining her prospect of completing a hat-trick. She remounted, and continued over the Australian Wine Garden fences in the copse, but retired before jumping out of over the final gate.

The fences in The Huntsman’s Close proved some of the most influential this year. The narrow angled fences of the Australian Wine Garden accounted for Caroline Pratt on Call Again Cavalier, who couldn’t get his landing gear out over the second, and Bill Levett managed a truly incredible recovery after the third.

The gates also caused trouble, not only for Pippa Funnell, but also for Virginia McGrath and youngster Emily Baldwin, who had a lucky escape with no serious injuries after a heavy fall out of The Huntsman’s Close .

Full credit goes to William Fox-Pitt, who rode a courageous round on foot-perfect Tamarillo, battling the soft ground to move into the lead on 62.4. William had retired Moon Man earlier in the day when the horse had completely run out of steam approaching the first fence in the Countryside Alliance Quarry (fence 29).

“After having to pull up Moon Man, I wasn’t even going to get on Tam. Running him in that ground was absolutely not what I wanted to do,” said William.

“In fact, he gave me the most fantastic ride. He’s an Arab, bred for trotting hundreds of miles across the desert, and this was a far cry from that. Still, he didn’t touch a single fence, and was keen the whole way round,” he added.

New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson topped the leader board at the end of yesterday’s dressage, and was the last to go today on Lord Killinghurst. In spite of a few hairy moments (including over the gate out of The Huntsman’s Close), he managed a clear round, but not in a quick enough time to keep him in the lead. He moved into second place with a total of 65.0 penalties.

Andrew spoke of his problems with the going: “My first ride, Flush Banker, usually gallops through the mud, and when he found it tough, I realised that there were going to be a lot of time penalties on the board by the end of the day.

“Lord Killinghurst doesn’t have a lot of stamina, so the ground really took its toll on him. But he gave 110%, and that’s all you could wish for.”

Andrew Hoy leads the Australian challenge, which disintegrated somewhat during the course of today, in spite of Matt Ryan’s bullish comments on Thursday. Mr Pracatan produced a solid round for the three-time Olympic gold medallist to put Andrew Hoy narrowly behind Andrew Nicholson on 67.0.

Megan Jones, who had the weight of expectation on her shoulders after a fluent dressage test had an unexpected fall at the Pony Club Sunken Road (fence 15). Matt Ryan himself had a run out on Bonza Puzzle at the second element of the Hunt Kennels (fence 14).

In order to qualify Tamarillo for Athens, William must have no more than four show jumps down tomorrow. But in all likelihood, he will have to do better than that in order to take the title, which has eluded him thus far.

“I’ll be feeling very sick about the show jumping tomorrow. Tamarillo pulled up well today though, and I just hope he concentrates well enough to keep the show jumps up,” William concluded.

Results after cross-country

1, Tamarillo (William Fox-Pitt) 62.4;
2, Lord Killinghurst (Andrew Nicholson) NZL 65.0;
3, Mr Pracatan (Andrew Hoy) AUS 67.0;
4, The Psephologist (Bumble Thomas) 69.8;
5, Comanche (James Robinson) 70.0;
6, The Wexford Lady (Sarah Cutteridge) 74.0;
7, Private Colin (Sam Griffiths) AUS 77.2;
8, Over to You (Jeanette Brakewell) 77.4;
9, Mallards Treat (Matthew Wright) 41.0;
10, Highpoint (Paul Tapner) AUS 44.8.