William Fox-Pitt is ready to tackle “the biggest Olympic cross-country course I have ever walked” after producing a stunning Olympics dressage display in Deodoro.
Fox-Pitt, who only returned to competition in April after suffering a serious fall last year that saw him put in an induced coma, leads the way on imperious stallion Chilli Morning.
Their score of 37.0 penalties was enough for a 0.6 advantage over Australia’s Christopher Burton and Santano II, with world-number-one and reigning Olympic individual champion Michael Jung third on Sam FBW.
Title holders Germany are early team leaders, with Australia in second and Britain third, while Ireland lie sixth.
Fox-Pitt’s team-mate Gemma Tattersall scored 47.2 penalties aboard Quicklook V — she is 15th overnight — with remaining British team riders Pippa Funnell (Billy The Biz) and Kitty King (Ceylor LAN) facing their dressage tests on Sunday.
But the opening flurries belonged to Fox-Pitt, who said: “That was what I was dreaming of.
“Chilli is great on the flat, and he did very good tests at the Caen 2014 World Equestrian Games and Malmo 2013 European Championships, and I did not want to let him down.
“In November last year, I thought Rio was still months away, but then I suddenly realised that Rio was just around the corner.
“I had lots of help with my rehabilitation and I saw more experts than I ever wanted to see. For me, it was perfect timing, and I am just lucky to be here.”
And, looking ahead to Monday’s cross-country challenge, he added: “That is the biggest Olympic course I have ever walked — and I have seen some.
“But Chilli is great out there, and I hope I’ll do him justice.”
Reflecting on her test, Olympics debutante Tattersall said: “I am a little bit disappointed with the score, but she (Quicklook V) went in and we both did our absolute best. She tried really, really hard for me.
“It’s hot, and she just slightly dropped behind me a little bit, which is perhaps why we didn’t get the score, but it’s still a good team score.
“She did all the movements really well, apart from one mistake, and I was really proud of her.”
And assessing the cross-country test, Tattersall said: “It’s a serious track. It’s very hilly, which I don’t think any of us were expecting.
“There are questions the whole way around, and I think we’re going to have to be absolutely on it.”
Meanwhile, Jung said he was “not quite happy” following a dressage score of 40.9 penalties.
“I had an expensive mistake because of a misunderstanding between the two of us. Right afterwards, he (Sam FBW) was fully with me again, but it is very annoying to have something like that happening at such an important show.
“There are two very interesting disciplines still to come, and we will see. I hope there aren’t any more of these silly mistakes.
“There is always pressure, because I want to win. You dream of gold and want to do your best. We are not doing this just for fun, but for winning. It did not quite work out today.”
Top image: William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning lead after the first day’s dressage at the Deodoro Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, by FEI/Dirk Caremans