Tearful Zara's fond farewell to Toytown

EIGHT days after her wedding in Edinburgh, yesterday proved another emotional day for Zara Phillips, who formally retired her 2006 world title-winning horse Toytown in Gatcombe's main arena at the Festival of British Eventing.

Phillips was also crowned European champion with Toytown a year earlier, although the 18-year-old has not competed since 2009.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, which was watched by a bumper crowd, she said: "I think it will be quite difficult. It's the end of an era. He was the horse of a lifetime for me. We grew up together, we went through the levels together, and it all just seemed to go our way.

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"The worlds were amazing because we managed to back up what we did at the Europeans on a much bigger stage. It was an amazing feeling.

"His movement, his character, it all combined to make the complete horse. And cross-country, he was just a machine."

A tearful Phillips was joined in the arena by her husband, England rugby star Mike Tindall, her mother the Princess Royal, father Captain Mark Phillips and brother Peter Phillips before taking off Toytown's saddle and leading him out to a rousing reception.

Andrew Nicholson later led a New Zealand procession - and flashed an ominous London 2012 warning to Great Britain's highly-fancied eventing squad.

Nicholson coasted to victory in the Festival of British Eventing's headline class, the British Open, winning with Nereo and finishing second aboard Avebury.

It was 50-year-old Nicholson's first British Open title since 2002, but the Kiwis did not settle for that as Jonathan Paget took third on Clifton Lush and current Badminton champion Mark Todd fourth with Major Milestone.

Pippa Funnell and Mirage D'Elle proved the top British combination in sixth place, collecting the national title as a result, but they were more than six penalties behind Nicholson, who jumped two of six clear cross-country rounds inside the time.

New Zealand, World Equestrian Games bronze medallists in Kentucky last October behind Britain and Canada, had already been installed as serious Olympic medal contenders at Greenwich Park next summer, and Gatcombe merely underlined that status.

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"Nereo is very fast," said Wiltshire-based Nicholson, who posted only the third British Open one-two after Mary King in 1996 and William Fox-Pitt seven years later. "It feels very easy for him. It feels like he knows the jumps before he has even seen them."

Nicholson was held on the course with last-to-go Nereo after British competitor Emily Baldwin fell heavily from Drivetime, but their rhythm was not disrupted.

Both Nicholson and Todd, meanwhile, claimed the cross-country course had been a softer test than in previous years. "The line at number six you had to get right," said Todd. "But the rest of it was just a gallop and how fast you could go."