William Fox-Pitt held a narrow advantage on Ballincoola at the end of the dressage phase of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials yesterday, with Kim Severson of the United States, who is competing here for the first time, just 0.4 points behind him with the consistent Winsome Adante.
Severson's 12-year-old bay gelding won at Blenheim in 2000, was the winner four times in Kentucky - three times at four-star level - and was individual silver medallist at the Athens Olympics. Andrew Nicholson, of New Zealand, is in third place on Lord Killinghurst.
Fox-Pitt had been disappointed with Ballincoola's dressage at the World Cup final in Malmo last month, so he asked Lizzie Murray - the daughter of the British Olympic dressage rider, Jennie Loriston-Clarke - to help him.
Murray arrived on 19 August, the day that Fox-Pitt's son, Ollie, was born. So she was left to ride the horse herself and it seems to have helped. Ballincoola suffered from a heart fibrillation at Badminton, where he was withdrawn after the steeplechase, but, according to his vet, he is no more likely to encounter the same problem than any other horse competing over today's cross-country.
Next week, Fox-Pitt rides Tamarillo for the British team in the European Three-Day Event Championships at Blenheim Palace, so he made a quick trip home to Dorset on Thursday. "I jumped Tam in the dark that evening and I galloped him in the mist at six o'clock in the morning," he said.
Marie-Louise Thomas, who was due to ride as an individual at Blenheim, had to withdraw The Psephologist yesterday because the horse was not fully sound. Her place will be taken by Polly Jackson on Two for Joy.