Zara Phillips was the star of the show at Blenheim on Saturday, completing a perfectly-judged cross-country round in filthy conditions, finishing well inside the time to stay on her dressage score and lead the field at the Petplan European Eventing Championships.
As Phillips and the very experienced Toytown set off, the rain came in, and they were forced to battle round in the wet and the mud. They were the only combination in the latter half of the day to overcome the conditions and finish ten seconds inside the time, one of only eight in the course of the day to remain on their dressage score.
Phillips said of her ride: I bought him as a seven-year-old and we have taken each other through from novice to four-star, so there is a great deal of trust between us, and it shows he was great the whole way round.
William Fox-Pitt and Tamarillo had to brave similar weather, but less sticky ground earlier in the day, accruing no penalties and looking a very pretty picture, finishing fourth overall. He was very fresh at the beginning, said William. He always argues a bit and finds me a bit irritating, but he gave me a great ride. The time never seems at all difficult on him, which is a great luxury.
Jeanette Brakewell and the veteran Over To You were similarly their professional selves, putting pay to any rumours of imminent retirement for the 17-year-old gelding. He doesnt feel like a 17-year-old at the moment. Well just keep going with him until he says he wants to retire.
The final combination of the British team to go – Leslie Law and
Many a spectator heaved a sigh of relief as British individual rider Pippa Funnell brought home Ensign only six seconds outside the time. They had a sticky moment going through the bounce into the water, but the nine-year-old attacked the course with gusto, and the combination hold on to second place going into the final show-jumping phase.
I think he was really tired in his brain, but he just kept jumping, explained Funnell. Our moment at the water probably looked worse than it was as it was very slow so I had a chance to stay in the plate. I blame myself as he was entitled to be green at what is a new question for him, but I maybe didnt give him the best possible chance. Hes definitely earned his place on the yard though!
But the British were far from the norm across country. German rider Bettina Hoy, who set out this morning with a healthy lead, was struggling early on with a reticent Ringwood Cockatoo, and eventually had a stop at the top of the hill going down to the water, they did go on to complete. Meanwhile team-mate Frank Ostholt had to virtually carry home an exhausted Air Jordan. They left the German team trailing Britain by 27.4 penalties.
The French had an even rougher ride: youngster Nicholas Touzaint suffered a ducking when he was fired from the saddle by Hildago de LIle at the bounce into the water, and none of the team riders made the time, adding more than thirty penalties to Frances total score and finishing in third place.
Karin Donckers made a good attempt to redeem Belgium with a fast and furious round pulled her up to third place, but a slow start to the day by compatriots Konstantin van Rijckevorsel, who added nearly twenty time penalties to his dressage score, and Raf Kooremans, left their team struggling in fifth.
Pippa Funnell and Zara Phillips will find themselves in a familiar position battling for gold in Sundays showjumping phase, but Phillips has more than a fence in hand, and Funnell conceded that although I was extremely pleased to win the £250,000 Rolex prize from her at Burghley in 2003, this time Zara definitely deserves it.
Less than one fence separates the next six riders, who will have to dig for nerve reserves to hold on to their individual spots, and in some cases, do their utmost for their teams. Tomorrows showjumping, it seems, will be a more nerve-wracking affair than ever.
Blenheim individual results, Cross Country
1. Toytown (Zara Phillips) 38.0
2. Ensign (Pippa Funnell) 42.6
3. Gormley (Karin Donckers, BEL) 42.7
4. Tamarillo (William Fox-Pitt) 43.3
5. Derby de Longueval (Jean Lou Bigot FRA) 44.4
6. Air Jordan (Frank Ostholt GER) 45.2
Blenheim team results, cross country
1. Great Britain 131.5
2. Germany 158.9
3. France 166.2
4. Sweden 177.4