A record-breaking dressage score has put Oliver Townend firmly into the lead at the end of the first day at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
The British rider scored 19.7 penalties (80.26%) riding Cillnabradden Evo. The previous record was 20.5, set by Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers 19 years ago.
“I did torture myself last night; I went to bed and rode my test again and again. Then at 2am this morning I was riding it again,” said Oliver, who won the Rolex Kentucky CCI5* in America last week.
“A lot of it came true; it’s very special to go in there and actually manage to enjoy it.”
Oliver still has a second ride here — his 2017 Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class — and he believes the grey is capable of doing an even better test on Friday afternoon.
He added that the Eric Winter’s CCI5* cross-country course is a “serious” test and that anything could happen.
“I’ve led after dressage at big events like this before and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s so much to get right. Look at the weather [it’s pouring with rain] — one slip and it’s all over.
“This is the longest course and the biggest event in the world from a history point of view. Things happen here that don’t happen anywhere else. It’s like riding round the Grand National — one slip and you’re on your backside.”
There are eight British riders inside the top 10 at this stage, five of these occupying the top half.
Tom McEwen: “Sometimes I let him down”
Tom McEwen lies second on his reigning team world equestrian games gold medallist Toledo De Kerser (24.7pens/75.26%).
“I’ve always known he’s a great horse; sometimes it’s just me letting him down. So, to come out and do a test that’s where I want him to be — I’m delighted,” smiled Tom. “For me, what he’s done today is roughly where his work is always at. He was loose, relaxed and I couldn’t ask any more of him.”
Piggy French was emotional following her test aboard Vanir Kamira, which scored 26 (74.04%) for third at this stage.
“I wasn’t confident at all,” admitted Piggy. “She’s a little blood horse and not a dressage horse, so nothing ever feels great.
“Leaving the stable yard, she felt a bit insecure and more on her toes than normal. Each time I’ve worked her here she’s been distracted and hot.
“She went into the arena, pricked her ears and smiled, which she doesn’t normally do in dressage, and it helped. I even got through it without saying any swear words to myself.”
Kitty King (Vendredi Biats) and Badminton first timer Millie Dumas (Artistiek) fill fourth and fifth respectively, ahead of Australian Christopher Burton (Graf Liberty) and William Fox-Pitt (Little Fire).
Italy’s Pietro Sandei (Rubis De Prere), Pippa Funnell (Majas Hope) and Izzy Taylor (Call Me Maggie May) complete the top 10 at the end of day one.
There is another day of dressage tomorrow, kicking off at 9.30am.
Piggy French: “I’m puzzled how to ride a few fences”
Saturday’s cross-country test looms and the heavens have opened at Badminton this evening. The 33-fence course includes multiple skinnies and serious combinations.
“I’m a little puzzled how to ride a couple of the questions,” confessed Piggy.
“I’ve only walked it once so far, so I’ll do a few more walks tomorrow. I’m glad I’m not number one so I can watch a few go and get some ideas.”
She highlighted the Shogun Sport Hollow (10ab — a tunnel to ditch and a choice of two acutely angled logs) and the Mirage Water (17abc/18 — an open corner to open water ditch and another open corner) as two concerns.
“The [Hollow] is tricky, because it doesn’t look like it should be a fence and it’s not clear until you get there. It looks like you go straight through the two logs,” she explained.
“There’s not an obvious line over the ditch [at the water] and while some will flow through easily, you’ll have to react to what horse does over the ditch.”
Piggy added that the Outlander PHEV Bank (13ab) “looks odd”, with one-and-a-half strides on top of the bank.
“I think horses might be punished for being a little brave, but forgiven if they chip in,” she added.