Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo swept into a commanding lead after the first session of dressage on Thursday morning at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
The 36-year-old punched the air in delight as his score of 19.7 – a new Badminton record – flashed up on the scoreboard. His test on Sally-Anne Egginton’s elegant 13-year-old gelding, which included two 10s for the final centre line and halt, was mistake-free and oozed quality.
“So far, so good,” quipped Oliver, fresh from his victory in Kentucky last weekend on Cooley Masterclass. “I’ve only had time to give him one gallop since I’ve been home, but he gave me 100% in there.”
Australian Christopher Burton currently lies second on a score of 27.7 after a characteristically smart test aboard the syndicate-owned Graf Liberty. “I was really pleased with him. For some reason he finds flying changes difficult, but they seem to come off better at the end of the diagonal after the extended canter and that definitely worked in our favour today,” said Christopher, adding: “I was punching [aiming] for a score between 25 and 30, so I’m happy with that.”
William Fox-Pitt was thrilled with the performance of his relatively inexperienced partner, Little Fire, who turned in a 29.2 – the final sub-30 score in this session – to lie third. “I was delighted with him,” said William of Jennifer Dowling’s 10-year-old. “He’s a really exciting young horse – a proper one – and I’m excited to see what will happen on Saturday.”
Other leading contenders also performed their tests this morning. Pippa Funnell and Izzy Taylor were both delighted with the first of their two rides (Majas Hope and Call Me Maggie May) who currently share fourth place on a score of 31, while Gemma Tattersall had her hands full with an exuberant-looking Arctic Soul, who posted a score of 39.7 to lie further down the leaderboard in 15th.
The first combination to come under the gaze of the Ground Jury (Nick Burton, Jane Hamlin and Christian Steiner) were Alex Kennedy and Global Milchen JJ, who performed the guinea pig test just after 9 o’clock this morning.
To watch Oliver’s test, click here.
For full results, click here.