Equestrianism: Leng stays a shade ahead

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The Independent Online
Virginia Leng, the world and European champion, is poised today to add to her previous wins at Badminton when she takes forward a narrow lead on the 10-year- old grey Welton Houdini.

This was their first big course since a dramatic fall last year, and Leng was impressed with her horse's bravery. Her worst moment came at fence five, with big zigzag rails over a ditch, when the horse veered left and barely slithered over. 'It took him a while to get real confidence, but he got better and better,' she said, excited to have a top-class horse again and surprised at his speed.

They finished easily inside the optimum time of 12min 20sec, as did a dozen others. 'Just right', was her verdict on Hugh Thomas's skilfully designed course: 'You needed to be dead accurate but it wasn't trappy.'

She will need to be at her accurate best today, in the show jumping, with only three penalties dividing the first four. Just 0.2 penalties behind comes Tanya Cleverly on Watkins. This big, long-striding chestnut has often promised so much without fulfilment, but, attempting their fourth Badminton, they should improve greatly on last year's 19th place. 'He's much fitter than ever before,' said Cleverly, who survived losing her reins and her balance coming out of the Lake.

Watkins waited calmly before popping over the sponsor's Mitsubishi Pick-Ups. Cleverly then kicked on with greater determination to finish easily inside the time.

The first of the 78 starters to tackle the 30-obstacle course, the world champion, Blyth Tait, proved a brilliant pathfinder on Delta. A confident blend of dash and accuracy, they made it look deceptively easy, as if on tramlines, but they were handicapped by a disappointing dressage score and stand in 17th place. Later, Tait repeated this achievement, clear inside the time on the 15-year-old Ricochet, competing in his last three-day event.

BADMINTON THREE-DAY EVENT Leading positions after two sections: 1 Welton Houdini (V Leng, GB) 43.0 pts; 2 Watkins (T Cleverly, GB) 43.2; 3 Ricochet (B Tait, NZ) 44.8; 4 King William (M Thomson, GB) 46.0; 5 Chief (V Latta, NZ), 50.0; 6 Chaka (W Fox-Pitt, GB) 51.0.