Badminton Horse Trials set for clash of titans - Pippa Funnell
"A clash of the titans" is how Pippa Funnell, three-time winner of the Badminton Horse Trials, describes this weekend of eventing at Badminton.
The 44-year-old is hoping for a fourth title in the idyllic surroundings of the Duke of Beaufort's Badminton House.
But it is the showdown between William Fox-Pitt, Andrew Nicholson and Michael Jung which has Funnell anticipating an "exceptional" three-day event.
"There are so many combinations that could win it," Funnell tells BBC Sport.
Ten years ago Funnell rode to victory at Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky horse trials in the same year to become the only person in history to win the sport's most prestigious prize - the Grand Slam of Eventing.
Fox-Pitt, the 2011 Burghley winner and 2012 Kentucky champion, would have gone for the £230,000 Grand Slam prize at Badminton last year had waterlogging not caused the event to be cancelled, putting the Briton's bid on hold.
Nicholson, meanwhile, is the reigning Burghley champion who won Kentucky last weekend, meaning two riders will contest the Grand Slam at one event for the first time.
Britain's silver medal quintet from the London Olympics - Fox-Pitt, Mary King, Zara Phillips, Tina Cook and Nicola Wilson - will also be in action from Friday.
"There's going to be some serious competition," says former European champion Funnell, who will compete on 12-year-old Redesigned, a horse which is returning to competition after spending a couple of years overcoming injury.
"It's going to be a very wide open competition."
New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson travels to Gloucestershire for the 65th edition of the event on the back of his victory at Kentucky.
But even though the Wiltshire-based rider has completed Badminton 31 times, his best finish was second in 2004, the year Fox-Pitt won.
Both men's hopes, however, could be ruined by Germany's reigning World, Olympic and European champion Michael Jung, who is attempting to master the attractive course for the first time.
"Michael Jung is the one to beat," admits Funnell.
"But Andrew Nicholson is in outstanding form and Fox-Pitt is going for the Grand Slam. All three of them have two horses each and all are capable of winning them. It will be a battle."
For a woman who has won in Gloucestershire on three previous occasions, in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and collected silver medals at both the Sydney and Athens Olympics, Funnell has surprisingly few expectations of herself, and her horse, during the forthcoming weekend.
Funnell, who describes Badminton as the Wimbledon of eventing, has set no targets and has no expectations, other than to "have fun".
She admits she is at an age where every Badminton is a bonus, but her sanguine approach to the next few days is perhaps a consequence of the "absolute devastation" she experienced last summer when she was unable to compete at her home Olympics.
Injuries to Redesigned and Billy Shannon meant the winner of team silver and individual bronze in Athens had to experience the joys of London 2012 from the commentary box rather than in her jodhpurs.
But while Funnell admits she will never get over the disappointment of missing out on competing in London she adds a jolly "hey ho life goes on" to suggest she has overcome the worst of the turmoil.
"It was an ambition and a goal [to compete in London] so I was absolutely devastated when that potential dream was shattered," she says.
"Any athlete would be distraught because like with any Olympics it's a long build-up of many, many years and it was obviously the one place we all just wanted to compete at. That is sport. They're not machines and we have to get over it.
"I was shattered not to be competing but I had the next best thing, working for BBC Radio 5 live, and had the most wonderful experience."
Funnell insists she has "absolutely nothing" to prove despite missing out on London 2012.
It is an attitude which is perhaps understandable for a rider who has been awarded an MBE, named Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year and has recently signed a four-book deal which will add to the collection of 18 children's books she has already written.
"I wouldn't be going if I wasn't competitive still," she says.
"Redesigned is my good horse that's been off for a couple of years. We never expected him to get back to this level so it's really exciting that we're actually getting him there.
"I'll ride him according to how he feels. I'm obviously aware he hasn't run a lot in the last two years.
"His issues have to do with his feet and hopefully, touch wood, we've got that all sorted. From my point of view, it's wonderful to be there."