Equestrianism: Relaxed Sir Nicholas leads the American charge at Blenheim

GAYLE MOLANDER and her compatriots from the United States dominated the first day of dressage at the Blenheim Horse and Hound International Horse Trials, where they hold five of the top six places.

Molander knew that her mount, Sir Nicholas, had the potential to produce a high-class test as long as she could keep him calm when he entered the arena. "Today he was relaxed and obedient, it was one of the best dressage tests he's ever done," she said, after overtaking Tiffani Louden and the dual world champion, Bruce Davidson, who are also part of the American contingent.

Lauder, 22, is on her first trip to Britain. Though relatively inexperienced, she already has two victories in three-day events to her credit with 12- year-old Makabi, who won at Camino Real, Texas, last year and at Lexington, Kentucky, this spring.

The event at Lexington was the only one at three-star level that Lauder has contested so far. The course there was designed by Mike Etherington- Smith, who is also responsible for the Blenheim fences and those for the Sydney Olympics in two years' time.

Davidson, who won the first of his world titles some 24 years ago, is lying third with Man of Stars, one of seven horses he has brought over from the States to ride on the British circuit. He had been hoping to take Eagle Lion to next month's World Equestrian Games in Italy but the 1995 Badminton winner has damaged a ligament, so he will ride Heyman or Squelch instead.

Clea Hoeg-Mudd, lying fourth so far on Feast of Florios, is the only home rider among the top six. Others - among them Kristina Gifford, Pippa Funnell and last year's winner, Paddy Muir - will be hoping to join her after their dressage tests today.

BLENHEIM HORSE AND HOUND INTERNATIONAL HORSE TRIALS: Positions after first day of dressage: 1 Sir Nicholas (G Molander, US) 43.6; 2 Makabi (T Loudon, US) 48.6; 3 Man of Stars (B Davidson, US) 48.8; 4 Feast of Florios (C Hoeg-Mudd, GB) 49.8; 5 Pathfinder (B Wright Morris, US) 51.2; 6 Paint the Town (P Green, US) 52.8.