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EQUESTRIAN: Nicholson second as Fox-Pitt dominates
7:28pm Saturday 9th June 2012 in Wiltshire Sport
WORLD number one William Fox-Pitt delivered an eventing masterclass at the Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials today that underlined his Olympic medal credentials.
Fox-Pitt is expected to spearheaded Great Britain's London 2012 title bid next month.
The five-strong group for Greenwich Park will be announced in a few days' time, with Fox-Pitt strongly fancied to challenge for team and individual honours.
The 43-year-old has rarely ridden better during a glittering career that has harvested numerous major championship medals.
And he confirmed that form by taking an overnight lead in both the CCI and CIC three-star competitions at Bramham Park.
Despite only having had new ride Chilli Morning for a matter of weeks - and being held on the cross-country course after his Great Britain colleague Nicola Wilson fell from Inde - he went clear exactly on the optimum time of 10 minutes 31 seconds.
That left the combination on their CCI dressage score of 39.2 penalties going into tomorrow's showjumping finale, where Fox-Pitt can afford to have once fence down and still win.
French challenger Sylvain Davesne lay second on Oregon Du Coty, with Australia's Sam Griffiths holding third and fourth places with Paulank Brockagh and Happy Times respectively.
But Fox-Pitt was not finished there, as he jumped showjumping clear rounds on both his CIC contenders - Neuf des Coeurs and Lionheart - to move into first and sixth places respectively.
New Zealander Andrew Nicholson and Nereo moved up to second, while 2006 world champion Zara Phillips and High Kingdom lay third after jumping one of only 14 clears from 91 starters. Early leader Laura Collett had two fences down on Rayef and was ninth.
Phillips performed superbly under pressure in testing going for an overnight score of 43.2 penalties, 4.5 behind Fox-Pitt and just 1.2 adrift of Nicholson.
It was a disappointing day for Tina Cook on her 2008 double Olympic bronze medal-winning Miners Frolic, as three fences down dropped them to 22nd, and Sarah Cohen, who has been in impressive form with Treason this season, withdrew after yesterday's dressage phase.
But Bramham's penultimate day of action was all about Fox-Pitt, as he maintained remarkable consistency that augers well for challenges ahead this summer.
"It was a good day at the office," said Fox-Pitt, relieved that the elements had not added Bramham to its victims after rain caused key pre-Olympic events Badminton and Chatsworth to be cancelled last month.
"It's a huge relief to have been able to compete here. To have lost Bramham after Chatsworth and Badminton would have been devastating.
"We have missed so much this season, so to have possibly lost Bramham was a scary thought."
Despite his outstanding form, though, Fox-Pitt insists he is taking nothing for granted in terms of Olympic selection.
"Places on the British team are being hard-fought, I would say," he added.
"It has been a very difficult season for new or less-experienced combinations to prove themselves because the bad weather has meant they've had nowhere to go. I think the selectors have got a very difficult job.
"There are five places there to be fought for. There are no foregone conclusions here.
"I am in the fortunate position that Parklane Hawk has already had his spring season and won a four-star, so if Neuf des Coeurs and Lionheart don't go well tomorrow, then Parklane is an option, but I don't know that.
"I think this year because the Olympics is in London it means a lot more to many more of us. The pressure is on - it means a lot to a lot of riders."
Collett, meanwhile, is still thought to be in the selection shake-up for London, although she will need a strong cross-country effort tomorrow in what has not always been Rayef's strongest discipline.
"The course is nice and flowing - really big and bold. I am just hoping the ground stays good," Collett said.
"After our fall at Saumur in France, we are hoping to be back on track with a good run here."
There were two fatalities during today's CCI cross-country after Clea Phillipps' Lead the Way collapsed while jumping fence 14, and Jagganath, ridden by Michael Jackson, collapsed after the finish following a clear round inside the time.
"There were no issues with any fences on the course," FEI veterinary delegate David Green said. "Something medically went wrong with both horses. It is incredibly bad luck."
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