Oliver Townend has maintained pole position after the cross-country phase at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and Irish Sport Horses fill the top seven placings.
When Townend’s first ride, dressage leader Cillnabradden Evo, clocked up time penalties in double figures, it was left to his stablemate, Ballaghmor Class, to deliver the goods. He did so in exemplary style, adding just 0.4 of a time penalty to his dressage score of 21.5.
“This was his best round to date for me. I wanted to give him a clear run and show the world what he’s capable of. We were 14 seconds down coming out of the Lake, and I just had to press go and off he went. He’s a special athlete,” said Townend, who won Kentucky last week and will have a handy one-fence cushion going into the final showjumping phase.
“When I was sitting in the lorry between my two rides I was listening to Ian Stark and Harry Meade talking on the livestream and Ian said that anyone who doesn’t get nervous before they go cross-country at Badminton either has no brain or is no good and I thought, ‘oh sh*t’!”
Piggy French and Vanir Kamira rose up from fourth after dressage to second despite finishing a shade over the optimum time.
“She’s so game and gutsy,” said an elated French. “She’s not flashy like some, but give her a Badminton or a Burghley and she comes into her own. I’m a bit annoyed about being two seconds over as I thought I’d got the time, but I’m not going to let that take away from what she’s done.”
There were five rounds inside the time and two of these came from Australian Chris Burton, who steered Graf Liberty and Cooley Lands effortlessly home and clear at opposite ends of the day.
“My rides were very different, but I was thrilled with them both,” Burton said. “Graf Liberty doesn’t pull, is snaffle-mouthed and we know each other very well, whereas Cooley Lands can get keen and strong but is incredibly fast – I was slowing down on my way home.”
Burton lies in third and fifth going into tomorrow’s final showjumping phase.
Sandwiched in between Chris’ two rides is 2017 winner Andrew Nicholson, who enjoyed a storming – and completely penalty-free – round with the super-classy Swallow Springs.
Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy – another pair to make the optimum – occupy sixth place.
Virginia Thompson and Star Nouveau stormed their way up the leaderboard from 57th to eighth spot.
Forty-seven of the 78 combinations who left the start box came home with clear jumping rounds under their belts. There were 15 retirements, four eliminations, and only one horse fall – for Becky Woolven and Charlton Down Riverdance, who tipped up over fence 6, the Worcester Avenue Table.
Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser, who were lying in second place at the beginning of the day, dropped to 16th after they triggered the frangible pin at the huge triple bar coming out of the Wadworth Lower Lake (fence 26) and incurred 11 penalties.
Neither Pippa Funnell (fifth after dressage on Billy Walk On) nor Kitty King (Vendredi Biats, sixth) completed, although Funnell enjoyed a brilliant pathfinding round on her first horse, Majas Hope, who lies in 24th.
Course-designer Eric Winter, commented: “It’s not often I say at the end of the day that I’d not change anything about the course, but it was the case today. It showed off the best to be the best and showed everyone else what they had to work on.”