Townend, who gained his first Badminton win in May with Flint Curtis, looked equally determined to gain his first Burghley title as he came out of the start box on Andrew Cawthray's 14-year-old grey. Despite adding 3.5 time penalties, for being eight seconds over the optimum time of 10minutes and 30 seconds, the pair had the advantage of a five penalty comfort zone after their superior dressage test put them well ahead of the field.
"He spends time in the air over his fences and needs looking after a bit and setting up for his fences at times which is probably why we didn't make the time but I'm very happy with the outcome," said Townend, who admitted he had spent most of the day sleeping.
"Everytime I woke up and stuck my head out of the window I heard yet another rider had had a run out at Fence 6 (Discovery Valley) so I changed my plan which is why it might not have looked pretty but at least it was clear."
The combination now has the comparative luxury of a fence in hand for today's show jumping. "I've only done one three-day event on him - Lexington - and he had one down. But he is an event horse and hopefully if I ride him well he has every chance."
Fence 6, the Discovery Valley, was easily the most influential. It involved a jump over a chest on to a downhill slope to a ditch and a right-handed turn to an acutely angled brush. Defending champion William Fox-Pitt (GB) was an early casualty here, on first ride Macchiato, and this fence also ended the chances of Olympic bronze medallists Daisy Dick (GB) and Springalong, plus Matt Ryan (AUS) and Bonza Puzzle, 9th after Dressage, and Allison Springer (USA) and Arthur, 7th.
The double of corners, situated on undulating ground, at fence 16, the Land Rover Dairy Farm, caused much discussion, as the second one was situated on the edge of sloping ground, but it jumped better than expected. However, it captured distinguished scalps in dressage runner-up Andrew Nicholson, who parted company with Nereo, and Karen O'Connor (USA) who fell from Mandiba.
J-P Sheffield, fifth after dressage, disappeared even earlier, with a fall at fence 4, the precipitous drop at the Leaf Pit. Kitty Boggis, equal 10th, was unseated at the main arena complex, when Boondoggle left a leg at the second of two narrow brushes.
Early leaders Sam Griffiths and Happy Times are now in second place but just two penalties ahead of New Zealander Caroline Powell and Lenamore. Griffiths and Happy Times were just one of four combinations to come home clear inside the time.
"The time was very influential but my horse came home full of running so I am very happy especially as he is still so inexperienced at the level. He cleared Fence 6 really well and got us both out of trouble at the Trout Hatchery (Fence 8 and 9) so couldn't have been better and I believe he still has a lot of improving to do," Griffiths said.
Spectators had a lucky escape when a driverless tractor travelled down the hill into the car park, smashing into three cars. No-one was hurt. The tractor's handbrake was not activated.
Griffiths is full of praise for the German bred gelding - by the German Thoroughbred sire Heraldik - who he has ridden since a five-year-old. "He is the perfect event horse - he has a good mind, good movement and a lot of Thoroughbred blood - it is a lovely mix and if I could find another by Heraldik I'd have him like a shot."
All things being equal the pair will have to jump clear in today's show jumping to maintain their place. "You always need a bit of luck on the final day but I am quietly confident."
In contrast Powell and 16-year-old Lenamore are one of the most experienced combinations at Burghley, competing at their sixth four-star event together. "He gave me a lovely ride and I can't think of one place out on the course that he put a foot wrong," said Powell, who was fifth here in 2005 with the Irish-bred grey by Sea Crest.
"Lenamore is 16 now and so he's getting slower but more reliable. The shorter course was a bonus for him because he's nippy, but it affected the longer-striding horses," Powell said.
Phillip Dutton and Truluck are in fourth place while Australian Clayton Fredericks, one of the five riders to produce a clear round inside the time, fifth on an equal score with Polly Stockton and Westwood Poser, who have moved up seven places after dressage.
"If I had my round again I would set off a bit slower as I went too quickly in the first half and therefore was running out of fuel towards the end - hence the time penalties," said Dutton, who was also at the top of the leader board last year with Woodman but had to withdraw before the show jumping. "A course never goes as expected - it is four-star - but overall I am really pleased with him. This is his first Burghley and it is a bigger than anything he has done so far, but he is a classy horse and a fun horse to have."
Worcestershire-based riding school intstructor Rosie Thomas and her four-star specialist Barry's Best produced yet another four-star clear inside the time to move 39 places up the leaderboard from 50th to 11th.
The other riders to achieve the optimum time were Andrew Nicholson, up from 69th to 18th on Armada; and Francis Whittington (GB), 22nd on Sir Percival lll despite a refusal at the Cascades (fence 21). Whittington was beside himself after the stop, just shortly after German rider Dirk Schrade fell off at the previously innocuous fence.
"I just couldn't understand it - he was cruising and I am completely baffled as to why," said Whittington, who nonetheless is still just outside the top 20.
Nicholson said Armada was "the most impressive jumper I have sat on. But he is an exceptional horse and not one to measure the standard by."
Time proved extremely influential, and Anna Warnecke (GER) on Twinkle Bee has risen 32 places to 8th with just 0.8 penalties, and Mary King (GB), who was held on course for fence repair, has gone up 36 places to 10th on Apache Sauce with 0.4.
Kiwi riders Annabel Wigley (Black Drum) and Dan Jocelyn (Special Attorney) went clear over the cross-country to vastly improve their places on the leaderboard, but both had time faults.
Unfortunately Neil Spratt and Hugo's There III had a stop on the cross-country to drop them from 14th after dressage to 26th place. Fellow Kiwi Tim Price retired Vortex on the cross-country.
Leicestershire based first-timer Ginnie Turnbull was on cloud nine after producing a clean sheet on the ross-country. The 39-year-old mother and owner of her ride Instant Reaction has waited quite a few years for the chance of a ride round the Lincolnshire four-star course. "I nearly got here in the 90s - but in hindsight not with a realistic chance of getting round," said Turnbull, who with her husband Will has a breaking and producing yard of 24 horses. Will broke the now 14-year-old Instant Reaction who is by the Thoroughbred sire Frinton. "He is the only horse we own - I should be so lucky riding him and riding here - I have to enjoy him while it happens. Once we'd got over the Discovery Valley (Fence 6) - where I took the long way - he was absolutely awesome and I had a dream ride," said Turnbull who was 39th with him at her first Badminton this year.
Twenty-four-year-old Aaron Millar from Exeter in Devon also produced a clear round with his reliable partner Stormstay - another pair that enjoyed a successful four-star debut at Badminton this year. They have improved 43 places on their 72nd place after dressage to end cross-country day in 29th place.
Mary King's second ride King's Temptress is now the highest placed mare in the competition. The homebred mare by the successful eventing sire Primitive Rising is in 14th place - 24 places higher than Jennifer Wooten's mare The Good Witch and Sara Squire's part-bred Irish mare Star Prospect in 43rd - the only three mares who go forward to today's final horse inspection at 9am.
Leprince de Bois, the only stallion in the field, finished the day in 12th place for German rider Kai Ruder. "The atmosphere with the crowds clapping when you finish here is just the best," said Kai who was eighth with the stallion at last month's HSBC FEI World Cup final in Poland. "He has had a good preparation but this is the biggest thing so far for him."
The stallion is by Yarlands Summer Song, a son of the formerly British-based Trakehner Fleetwater Opposition, who competed for France and completed Badminton with Marie-Christine Duroy.
77 horses started Cross-Country
13 were eliminated (8 rider falls, 1 horse fall, 4 accumulated refusals)
5 inside the time of 10min 34 sec
36 clear rounds
Fence 6 caused 28 horses to fault
Technical Delegate was Guiseppe della Chiesa (ITA)
1 Oliver Townend/Carousel Quest (GBR) 39.8 + 3.2 = 43
2 Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 48.3 + 0 = 48.3
3 Caroline Powell/Lenamore (NZL) 45.2 + 5.2 = 50.4
4 Phillip Dutton/Truluck (USA) 45.3 + 5.2 = 50.5
5 Clayton Fredericks/Poilu (AUS) 51.7 + 0 = 51.7
6 Polly Stockton/Westwood Poser (GBR) 48.5
7 William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie (GBR) 47.5
8 Anna Warnecke/Twinkle Bee (GER) 57.5 + 0.8 = 58.3
9 Paul Tapner/Inonothing (AUS) 51.5 + 6.8 = 58.3
10 Mary King/Apache Sauce (GBR) 58.3 + 0.4 = 58.7
(place after dressage)
ARMADA Andrew Nicholson 67.5 (69) - - 67.5 18
SPECIAL ATTORNEY Dan Jocelyn 60.8 (56) 12.8 - 73.6 23
HUGO'S THERE III Neil Spratt 49.0 (14) 10.0 20 79.0 26
BLACK DRUM Annabel Wigley 69.8 (71) 19.2 - 89.0 33
NEREO Andrew Nicholson 45.0 (2) Eliminated
VORTEX Tim Price 55.2 (32) Retired