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Bettina Hoy sweeps into lead for Germany

Bettina Hoy and Ringwood Cockatoo, representing Germany, were the epitomy of perfection as they performed their dressage test in the Petplan European Eventing Championships at Blenheim on Thursday afternoon.

Hoy and the Irish-bred grey gelding produced an immaculate test littered with nines, and even a few tens, putting the majority of her rivals to shame. Britain’s eventing queen, Pippa Funnell was her nearest challenger on Ensign, more than six points behind, but the Surrey-based rider termed their test “by far the best he’s ever done.”

The ex-racehorse is probably the least experienced horse in the field, with just two three stars under his belt, but as Funnell explains, she had no other options.

“Primmore’s Pride suffered a minor injury after Gatcombe, which thank goodness, we checked out immediately. Realistically, this would have been too early for Walk On Star, who is coming back into work after a break, so Ensign it is.

“He was absolutely brilliant today. He’s such a laid back horse, too laid back in some ways – I imagine that’s why he wasn’t very successful in his first career, racing,” she added.

It is pure chance that Funnell still has the horse, which she bought three years ago for a “quick buy-sell, cheap and cheerful out of racing”. But she failed to sell the gelding, and has been eventing him herself for those three years.

Funnell is now looking ahead to Saturday’s challenge, which will be Ensign’s biggest test to date. “I’m walking the course with him in mind,” said Pippa, “and it will be a tough track for him.”

Bettina Hoy was similarly wary about potential problems on Saturday. “It’s a big course – almost four star I would say,” the German explained.

William Fox-Pitt, who looked impressive but failed to achieve quite such a good mark in the dressage on the ever-spirited Tamarillo, and currently lies in fourth place, was dismissive of Hoy’s fears. “It is quite a big course, and extremely well presented, but it isn’t difficult, and it’s certainly nowhere near four star – although I’ve got a brilliant horse which makes a difference of course.”

The Burghley champion voiced concerns, in fact, that it wasn’t a good course for the Brits. “It probably isn’t tricky enough for us; it’s a generous course, and with the ground as it is I don’t imagine the time will be difficult either. As long as she stays on, and her horse doesn’t fall over, Bettina should definitely retain her lead,” Fox-Pitt added.

The French dominate the top placings overnight, with Didier Willefert on Escape Lane *Mili in third place. “The horse wasn’t as relaxed as he might have been, say, at home on French soil,” said Didier. “But he’s a very generous horse and extremely fast across country, so if all goes well we could pick up there.”

Tomorrow, British individual rider James Robinson will start the day off, while team members Leslie Law and Zara Phillips will perform their tests later in the day.

Blenheim results, Thursday
1. Ringwood Cockatoo (Bettina Hoy GER) 31.3
2. Ensign (Pippa Funnell) 37.8
3. Escape Lane *Mili (Didier Willefert FRA) 40.2
4. Tamarillo (William Fox-Pitt) 43.3
5. Derby de Longueval (Jean Lou Bigot FRA) 44.4
6. Ismene du Temple (Didier Dhennin FRA) 44.6

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