Zara rides in memory of dear friend

IAN CLARKE He is a very special horse helping world and European riding champion Zara Phillips keep a dear friend's memory alive.And for only the second time in competitive action, the Queen's granddaughter yesterday rode Glenbuck at the Burnham Market World Cup Horse Trials, a 12-year-old gelding who was owned by fellow rising star Sherelle Duke.

IAN CLARKE

He is a very special horse helping world and European riding champion Zara Phillips keep a dear friend's memory alive.

And for only the second time in competitive action, the Queen's granddaughter yesterday rode Glenbuck at the Burnham Market World Cup Horse Trials, a 12-year-old gelding who was owned by fellow rising star Sherelle Duke.

Sherelle, 28, a former World Young Rider, was killed in a riding accident last August just days before Zara clinched gold in the World Equestrian Games.

At the time, Zara dedicated her glory to her close friend.

And now the 25-year-old BBC Sports Personality of the Year is riding Glenbuck after Sherelle's family in Northern Ireland handed him over to her.

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Friends of Zara have said she was “unbelievably touched” to have been given the beautiful dark Glenbuck, who is one of four horses she is riding at the prestigious Norfolk event and will also help her in her preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

Zara rode Glenbuck in all three disciplines - dressage, show jumping and cross country - yesterday on the second day of the Easco Burnham Market trials, which attracted thousands of spectators on another fine spring day.

The glamorous royal also took part in the dressage on her distinctive chestnut Toytown - the world and European champion - and she completes her programme on him today. She will also be riding Red Baron and Tsunami II.

While Zara was an obvious attraction to the crowds, she is among many world-class riders taking part at the event at Sussex Farm, which is one of only two British world cup qualifying events.

World number one and number two - respectively Australian Andrew Hoy and Britain's William Fox-Pitt - are both competing, as well as three-time Olympic champion Matt Ryan. Norfolk's talented Piggy French is also among the riders.

Director Alec Lochore said: “We have got a really world-class field here.”

He said the main arena - which has a natural amphitheatre - was one of the best in the country.

Mr Lochore heaped praise on Zara and said she has to be a very real hope for Olympic gold when the 2012 games were held in Britain.

“You do not win the European and world championships by luck and Zara has done incredibly well with an awful lot of pressure and is one of the best in the world. Riders usually peak in the early to mid 30s and she is only 25.”

Mr Lochore said even if you had a great horse, it did not automatically make you a great rider.

He said the Sussex Farm venue - which has a growing reputation and this year has a record 750 entries - could be involved with helping teams prepare for the 2012 Olympics.

The rise and rise of the event is staggering, especially as it only started in 1999 as a modest one-day meeting with 240 horses, and is set in only about 100 acres.

Mr Lochore admitted that if anyone had told him a few years ago that the event would now be as big as it was, he would have said “they were bonkers”.

The horse trials - sponsored by the EDP - also give the chance for many novice riders to show off their talents.

The third day of competition is today and gates open at 9am. Tickets cost £6 for adults, £4 for children and £18 for a family ticket (two adults and three children).

Dogs are welcome on leads.

Call 08707 879986 to find out more.