BARBURY HORSE TRIALS DAY THREE: Nicholson leads as Olympians round off Games preparations (From The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald)
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BARBURY HORSE TRIALS DAY THREE: Nicholson leads as Olympians round off Games preparations
6:06pm Saturday 30th June 2012 in Sport
ZARA Phillips has described the prospect of making her Olympics debut at London 2012 as "different class'' after completing a successful final run with her London horse High Kingdom at the Barbury International Horse Trials.
She finished fifth in section B of the CIC two-star category, where her London-bound colleagues Piggy French (DHI Topper W) and William Fox-Pitt (Lionheart) were third and seventh, respectively.
Although 2006 world champion Phillips will compete again before the Olympic eventing begins at Greenwich Park on July 28, High Kingdom's next scheduled appearance is not until then.
"I am really pleased with him," Phillips, the Queen's granddaughter, said. "He felt good, and he was very accurate.
"The horse has really improved a lot in the last year.
"I have always known he was a good horse, but he has learnt so much. His weakest phase is the dressage, but he is still learning in that phase and getting stronger. We just have to keep working on it.
"We had a good result at Saumur last year, and then he really stepped up at Burghley. He is much stronger this year, and he handles the (cross-country) tracks very well.
"We had so much fun at Burghley, and this year he has grown. He felt fantastic at Bramham a few weeks ago."
Phillips clinched her selection for the Games with an impressive performance under pressure at Bramham, and she will arrive in London as part of a strong British team alongside Fox-Pitt, French, five-time Olympian Mary King and double 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Tina Cook.
"High Kingdom is a very relaxed horse - he loves his job," Phillips added.
"(Owner) Trevor Hemmings is so excited by the Olympic selection. He has supported me for a long time now, and we bought the horse as a youngster.
"At this moment, you are trying to get through everything and get there (London). Then for the competition it is all focus, and when you have finished it's relief.
"But it is just going to be different class going to an Olympics on your home turf. It is very exciting to be part of the team."
World number one Fox-Pitt effortlessly nurtured Lionheart around the Marlborough Downs cross-country course, with 14 time faults meaning little in the general scheme of things.
"I am very pleased," he said. "The plan was to have a run at Salperton last weekend, and then again here.
"Neither weekend was about being competitive, it was about getting the horse to Greenwich in the most relaxed frame of mind possible.
"He can be quite tense - he is very keen to do well and to do right - which is why I have run him twice recently."
Leicestershire-based French, winner of the Olympic Test event at Greenwich Park a year ago on Topper, also enjoyed a trouble-free day for third spot behind winner Kitty King, from Lower Stanton St Quintin, and Australian runner-up Paul Tapner, who is based in Highworth.
"I am happy. He feels in very good form, and this was the perfect place to come and do a last run (before London)," said French.
"The ground was superb, and it was nice for him to go out and have a confidence-giving run.
"The pressure will be on in London, without doubt. We just have to focus on the competition and forget about everything else."
King said: "I am thrilled with this result because he (Persimmon) is only a young horse.
"He is seven and in his second season and to lead from the front and beat Olympic horses is excellent".
Cook and King, meanwhile, each jumped clear in the three-star showjumping ahead of tomorrow's cross-country finale.
Cook lies 10th overnight and King 13th, but New Zealand's prospective Olympic riders again served notice of their London credentials by filling the top three places.
Marlborough-based Andrew Nicholson, World Equestrian Games bronze medalist two years ago, leads on Avebury, with his fellow New Zealanders Jonathan Paget (Clifton Lush) and Mark Todd (NZB Campino) second and third, respectively.
The New Zealand eventing team for London will be announced next Tuesday.
The four-star Olympic combined training, featuring a host of British and international Olympic-bound combinations, was won by Membury-based Laura Collett riding Rayef.
Following a clear showjumping round by Collett the pressure was on overnight leader Chris Burton and Holstein Leilani, who had two poles down, dropping them to fifth place.
Paget and Clifton Promise finished second and One To Many NJ ridden by Bill Levett was third. Collett said: "I am really pleased with Rayef's performance.
"At Barbury there is a lot going on, including the cross country being right next door to the show jumping so there are many distractions but he really concentrated and focused on the job.
"We will now go to Aachen, Germany, next week.''
Pippa Funnell and Billy Beware held on to their overnight lead putting in clear on the cross country to win section C of the two star competition, with French and West Side completing in second and Oliver Townend and ODT Ghareeb performing a swift cross country round in third.
Funnell said: "This is a A level test for this horse, but the cross country has been very beneficial for his level of education. He is a home-bred so this win is extra special.''
French went one better in section D to win on board and Kiltealy Brief.
Performing a faultless performance with a double clear and no time penalties on cross country the pair clinched victory from Trefeinon Red Kite and Melanie Wilder and America's Julian Stiller and Enjoy Me in third.
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