Emily King has continued her stunning rise through the senior eventing ranks by putting herself in a major position to challenge for Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials success.
King, the 20-year-old daughter of six-time British Olympian Mary King, moved into second place after dressage following a brilliant performance on 14-year-old gelding Brookleigh.
She stands just 2.4 penalties behind reigning Olympic champion Michael Jung, heading into Saturday’s cross-country phase, while four other British challengers — Francis Whittington, Dani Evans, Izzy Taylor and Oliver Townend — also hold top-eight places.
King, who finished fourth at Pau last October on her four-star debut, is seen by many as a strong candidate to make the Great Britain team for this summer’s Rio Olympics. And she did nothing to lose ground in the popularity stakes.
“The horse can do a good dressage test, and he didn’t do anything differently today from what he did in the warm-up,” said King, whose mother, Mary, was a British team member at every Olympics from 1992 to 2012.
“I am over the moon. Brookleigh was really good. I knew he was capable of doing such a test, but he has never been in such a big arena as that. He kept his cool.
“I want to do very well here. I am a very competitive person. Since Pau, and having a good result there, I knew he was capable of doing well.
“I really like the look of the (cross-country) course — it is nice and bold and attacking. The conditions are great, and hopefully, if I attack it well, he will respond.”
Jung, who is chasing the £240,000 Rolex Grand Slam this week for consecutive victories at Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton, still leads the way, though.
Friday also saw the four-star return of Zara Tindall, who scored 48.0 with High Kingdom, a horse that missed most of last season due to a freak stable accident just before dressage at America’s Rolex Kentucky event.
“He was a little bit jolly in there, but it is better to be that way,” Tindall said. “He hasn’t been in a proper arena for a year, so I am pleased with him. Some of his work was really good.
“There are bits we have got to work on, and he was a little bit fresher than he normally probably is, but you just have got to deal with what you get and make sure everything is accurate. Now, he can go and do the fun bit!”
Attention will now turn to Italian Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s cross-country course which, with an optimum time of 11 minutes and 58 seconds, will provide a major test of stamina, as well as jumping ability.
“You are confident that everything is done,” Della Chiesa said on the eve of cross-country. “As a course designer, you have 70-odd horses to ride, not just one!
“The ground has dried up very well, although you always need to be careful on drying going, because it could become sticky in some places.
“So far, the feedback from the riders has been good. It is a course that is to be respected and jumped. In principle, I always try to design a package. Difficulties should be spread all around the course.”
Four-time Badminton winner and twice Olympic champion Mark Todd will be among those who could mount a serious title bid across the parkland course, and he said: “It’s a proper Badminton. The course asks questions, and I think this year it has got a little bit more flow to it.
“It’s Badminton. It is big, it takes jumping, you can’t afford to lose concentration anywhere around the course, and you have got to have a horse that can keep galloping to the end.”
Leaderboard after dressage: 1 – Michael Jung (La Biosthetique-Sam) 34.4, 2 – Emily King (Brookleigh) 36.8, 3 – Andreas Ostholt (So Is Et) 38.2, 4 – Francis Whittington (Hasty Imp) 40.0, 5 – Christopher Burton (Nobilis 18) 40.3, 6= – Dani Evans (Raphael II) and Izzy Taylor (Allercombe Ellie) 40.4, 8 – Oliver Townend (Black Tie) 40.7, 9 – Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) 40.8, 10 – Jesse Campbell (Kaapachino) 41.1.
Image: Emily King and Brookleigh at Badminton, by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials