Sir Mark Todd is sitting in second place after a stunning dressage performance at Badminton, aboard his up-and-coming Kiltubrid Rhapsody.
The Kiwi legend was delighted with his test, which earned them a score of 76.61% (23.4pen), 2.6 penalties adrift of the leader, Britain’s Oliver Townend.
” I’m absolutely thrilled with him,” says Mark.”It’s his first time at Badminton, and his second four-star. He’s a great big, big-moving, flashy sort of horse, and for the level he’s at now, he did a lovely test.”
Tim Price is the next-best placed New Zealand rider, 14th with Ringwood Sky Boy on 25.8pen, while his wife Jonelle had a personal best performance on Classic Moet, scoring 72.36% (27.6) to sit 22nd.
However, particularly now that the dressage score multiplier has been removed (in an effort to reduce its influence on the overall result), the scores are extremely tight, with only 6.3 marks separating the top 20, while 37 combinations are within 10 marks of the leader.
Sir Mark and Leonidas II are right behind Jonelle in 23rd place, Andrew Nicholson is 33rd on Nereo, Caroline Powell is 44th on Up Up and Away and 52nd on On the Brash, Dan Jocelyn 57th, Andy Daines 67th and Ginny Thompson 75th of the 78 combinations.
So much will come down to the speed at which tomorrow’s cross-country track can be tackled, with the soft ground sure to have a large influence.
“The pressure’s on, isn’t’ it?” says Sir Mark. “Everything is so close the way it is now, it will be down to who’s prepared to go fast.”
Jonelle is aiming to be one of those; she and Classic Moet are well known for their speedy cross-country performances, including in wet and difficult conditions.
“It sounds ridiculous, but I almost hope it rains some more… it will be favourable for us,” says Jonelle. “It’s hard to know where the problems will be on the course – I think they will be widespread. There’s the fatigue factor, questions of accuracy, some new and quite different fences… I sure hope time will play a factor!”
Meanwhile, Oliver has got his quest to win the Rolex Grand Slam off to the best possible start, taking the lead on his Burghley champion Ballaghmor Class with a score of 79.2% (20.8pen).
Riding almost at the very end of the class, Ollie and the beautiful grey, who is owned by New Zealander Karyn Shuter, were awarded with a string of 8s and 9s from the judges, who especially liked the flying changes and extended canters. The Yorkshireman also got 9s for his rider mark.
It’s the best dressage score at Badminton for 18 years, according the equestrian data company EquiRatings, even taking into account the removal of the co-efficient.
“We know what he is capable of, we live with him every day and we were just hoping that we would pull it off in the atmosphere,” Oliver says. “He was 100% on my side today.”
Ollie is sitting on the Grand Slam, having won Burghley last September, and then Kentucky last week on Cooley Master Class.
Yesterday’s dressage leader, Rosalind Canter, is now third, while Ireland’s Jonty Eans is fourth on his crowd-funded horse, Cooley Rorkes Drift. Australians Paul Tapner and Sam Griffiths share fifth place, Will Coleman of the USA is seventh, and Michael Jung eighth on La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Yoshiaki Oiwa is ninth on The Duke of Cavan, and making up the top 10 are equal-placed Lauren Kieffer on Veronica, and Piggy French on Vanir Kamira.
Cross country starts at 10.30pm NZ time, and the start list and start times are on the link below. Go Kiwis!