Oliver Townend is poised to take his second four-star event this year as he capitalised on a useful lead in dressage on Carousel Quest with an impressive performance cross country in The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials yesterday.
Already the winner of Badminton riding Flint Curtis, who is bound for the European Championships at Fontainebleau later this month, Townend will feel extra pressure to retain his position in today's showjumping. A Burghley win gives him a great chance of taking the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing with its €350,000 (£305,000) prize, by completing the treble at Kentucky next year.
The leader added 3.2 time faults but can afford one fence down and still win. On a good day for Australians, the classy Happy Times, beautifully ridden by Sam Griffiths, was one of just five horses to complete the complicated, nearly four-mile course within the time allowed, to stand second. He was closely followed by Caroline Powell of New Zealand on the experienced veteran Lenamore, and America's Phillip Dutton with Truluck, while Australian Clayton Frederick on Poilu moved up to fifth position after a clear round.
Polly Stockton riding Westwood Poser was next best for Britain, ahead of William Fox-Pitt on his second ride, Seacookie.
Mark Phillips' technically difficult course demanded complete obedience from the horses, sharp accuracy from the riders, and confidence from both.
Although 36 of the 77 who started out cross country completed clear rounds, there was plenty of grief. Faults were spread around the course, but the most influential obstacle was fence six, The Discovery Valley, which claimed several victims including Fox-Pitt on his first ride Macchiato and Daisy Dick with Spring Along.
The third of its four elements, a tall narrow brush of Land Rover bonnet proportions (4ft 5in) was preceded by a large ditch on to a steep bank and a right-angled turn.
Townend described the course as "intense", and felt it had not ridden smoothly, but later realised he had actually enjoyed it, excited to be riding a horse that is undoubtedly world class.