New Zealander Andrew Nicholson has preserved his lead after dressage in the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials – but there is a queue of talent behind him waiting to pounce.
Nicholson and Nereo will head into Saturday’s cross-country phase on a score of 37.8 penalties, with Britain’s former world number one William Fox-Pitt second aboard Chilli Morning on 39.0, and Yorkshireman Oliver Townend third on 39.6 after producing an outstanding performance on 16-year-old Armada.
Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob are fourth, just ahead of 2013 Badminton champion Jock Paget’s two rides Clifton Lush and Clifton Promise. Paul Tapner (Indian Mill), Niklas Bschorer (Tom Tom Go 3), Bettina Hoy (Designer 10) and Aoife Clark (Vaguely North) complete the top 10.
The scene is now set for a thrilling day of cross-country champion, with Nicholson – who has completed Badminton a record 33 times – chasing his first title, but knowing that former Badminton winners Fox-Pitt and Townend are breathing down his neck.
A couple of mistakes in the changes cost Fox-Pitt, but he is firmly in the shake-up.
“It was frustrating to have a couple of mistakes in the changes – you can’t afford to do that here,” he said.
“He is a horse that is very soild in his changes, so it was just one of those things. What can we say? They are not machines.”
Townend, meanwhile, steered Armada to within 0.1 of equalling its four-star personal best for dressage, and Townend said: “Everyone knows Armada and what he can do, and to get it right for once is great.
“I think that is the first time he has gone in at Badminton and behaved.
“It is the first time he has gone into Badminton and felt like he was there to do his job in the dressage. Before, it has been like sitting on eggshells.
And looking ahead to cross-country – at which Armada is rated among the world’s best – Townend added: “We are at Badminton, and things happen that you would never expect, as we saw last year with some of the top combinations.
“The course is twisting and turning a little bit, and when you’ve got one that has a huge stride like he has, then turning can become difficult, but if he tries his best and I try my best then we should be good.”
The cross-country action is due to begin at 1130am on Saturday.