Oliver Townend set a scorching pace on day one of the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe.
The 32-year-old Yorkshireman has been in outstanding form this season, with his consistent performances being highlighted by his selection for the Longines FEI European Championships at Blair Castle next month.
And he served further reminders of his class by dominating a busy day’s dressage action in both the Dodson and Horrell British Novice Championship and Smith and Williamson British Intermediate Championship.
Shropshire-based Townend has already claimed three novice titles during his career, winning at Gatcombe in 2005 (Best of Spirits), 2010 (Jeepers Creepers) and 2011 (Brucester Rooster), and he leads the way going into Saturday’s showjumping and cross-country phases.
Riding Sonic De Sermentol, Townend posted a score of 27.7 penalties for a narrow advantage over Lizzie Baugh and Quarry Man, while Welsh challenger Sara Squires lies third aboard Clara M, with Polly Stockton (Stanhopes Mr Macoy) fourth, William Fox-Pitt (Reinstated) fifth and Townend (Ridire Dorcha) and Fox-Pitt (The Soapdodger) sharing sixth.
Townend is also chasing a third intermediate crown, following victories in 2007 and 2008, and this year’s class is already developing into a thrilling battle between himself and Fox-Pitt, who is bidding for a title hat-trick.
The Yorkshire rider led the way overnight with Note Worthy on a brilliant score of 23.3, but Fox-Pitt and Ramdam De Mons are second on 23.5 and Italian Vittoria Panizzon holds third with 23.8 aboard Borough Free Flight. Just behind the top three are Tom McEwen (Toledo De Keeser) in fourth, while Panizzon is fifth on Chequers Play The Game and Townend sixth aboard Power Drive.
Both the novice and intermediate championships reach their conclusion on Saturday with showjumping and cross-country phases, while Sunday’s attention focuses on the British Open Championship showjumping and cross-country.
The open title was won last year by four-time Barbury champions and three-time Burghley title holders Andrew Nicholson and Avebury, and another great competition looks guaranteed with entries like Nicholson and Avebury, Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul), Townend (Armada) and Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero).
“It is a big weekend,” Fox-Pitt said. “It is an event I would target, and it is a great experience for the horses with a real international feel.
“The British Open will be very hotly contested on Sunday, and there is no doubt that Gatcombe is a real focus for the riders and owners. There is always a terrific atmosphere there.”