By Sarah Edmonds
LONDON (Reuters) - Show jumping tends to throw up more surprises than any other equestrian sport.
But if his flawless form in the team event is anything to go by, Britain's Nick Skelton could well pick up more Olympic gold in Wednesday's individual final.
Skelton was loathe to talk about his chances when focused on the team goal, saying the individual was "another day".
But he has repeatedly said horse Big Star is performing superbly and bookmakers had him as joint favourite with American Rich Fellers going into this week.
"He's in great condition. He hasn't a negative, that horse. He is the most perfect horse, all round," Skelton said at the weekend.
The veteran show jumper led Britain to its first team show jumping gold in 60 years on Monday after a jump-off with the Netherlands while Saudi Arabia took bronze with some royal help from the grandson of Saudi King Abdullah.
The gold was Skelton's first medal in six Olympics. He missed the Sydney Games after breaking his neck at a show and initially planned to retire but changed his mind after finding a good horse for Athens, where he placed 10th.
Based on form, Dutch and Saudi riders could have a chance, given the strong performances from all team riders that took them into silver and bronze medal position.
But with a number of young horses in the field and a sport that involves split-second timing, sudden reversals and the vagaries of an often nervous animal, the gold could go to any number of top riders.
Beezie Madden, seen before the Olympics as a possible podium hope for the Americans, was eliminated in the first individual qualifier after her horse put in two stops at a fence.
The two rounds of team jumping served as a second and third qualifier for the individual contest, with the top riders placing 35th or above going through.
All start on a clean slate.
There are two rounds, with the 20 riders carrying the lowest number of faults going through to the second round. A jump-off resolves any ties for medal positions.
Horse-rider pairings earn faults by knocking down rails, splashing in water jumps or refusing to jump. Two refusals means elimination.
Prince Abdullah Al Saud finished the three qualifying rounds in joint fourth with only one fence down while Skelton and Dutch riders Maikel van der Vleuten and Marc Houtzager have all been flawless so far.
Australia's Edwina Tops-Alexander and Briton Ben Maher on his home-bred stallion Tripple X came out of the qualifiers with four faults apiece, tied with Prince Abdullah.
Defending Olympic champion Eric Lamaze, who finished in joint 22nd, does not expect a podium spot given the inexperience of his horse, Derly Chin De Muze, which has replaced his gold medal mount Hickstead who collapsed and died last year during an event in Italy.
"To be perfectly honest, I'd have to be a very lucky guy for that to happen," he said at the weekend of his medal chances on Derly Chin De Muze.
"But it's show jumping. The horse is plenty good - I just feel like eventually I may run out of experience from the horse."
Canadian Ian Millar, who at 65 is making a record 10th Olympic appearance and has yet to win an individual Olympic medal but was on the silver medal-winning team in Beijing, is also on good form with only two rails down.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)