The New Zealander will have help from Blyth Tait, with whom he is based, before he tackles the 23 fences. Yesterday he was planning to take all the fast routes, with the single exception of Peggy's Pimple (fence 18), where the slower alternative will not waste much time.
O'Brien leads from Clea Hoeg-Mudd on the promising seven-year-old Norton Nite-Flight, whom she bought four years ago. "He selected me in the field as his next owner despite the inflated price," Hoeg-Mudd said. The 31- year-old Suffolk rider has not regretted her expensive purchase, since the horse (who won an intermediate class at Belton) has already upgraded to advanced.
When she last competed here as a 15-year-old, Hoeg-Mudd was riding with four broken ribs and a dislocated thumb. She has no such handicap now, as she rides her young horse in his first three-day event.
Emily Mackenzie on Doubtless William and Lucinda Fredericks on Darassas, who had held the top two overnight places, are now in third and fourth, with James Berry moving into fifth on Clean as a Whistle.
Julie Tew, who led the Masterpiece Section on Thursday, is now among three sharing second place, 15 points behind Frank Bourny of France on Gamblers Fancy, who produced an outstanding dressage test yesterday.
Today's course is 200m shorter than last year, which means that there are fewer galloping stretches and the optimum time (which is based on the overall distance) will therefore be harder to achieve. "It's difficult to stop too many getting inside the time," said Giles Rowsell, director of the event, but he believes that this year's changes will have the desired effect.Reuse content