Oliver Townend is the leader after the dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, on the event’s best score in 18 years.

‘Very special’

Oliver was riding Ballaghmor Class, who took him to victory at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials last year. This is only the 10 year-old gelding’s second four-start event, but Oliver never doubted his talent.

Their score of 20.8 puts them 2.8pen ahead of Mark Todd and Kiltubrid Rhapsody in second place.

“He’s very special,” said Oliver. “He came out at Burghley and did what we thought he was capable of, but we were going into the unknown.

“Now we’re not in the unknown, but that’s often when they go the wrong way, because they know what’s coming and know the atmosphere and crowd. But he came to me 100 per cent.”

Rolex Grand Slam

Oliver’s great performance puts him one step closer to winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. The series awards a $350,000 bonus to any rider who can consecutively win Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton – which only Pippa Funnell and Michael Jung have achieved since its inception in 1999.

In addition to Oliver’s win at Burghley he won Kentucky last week with Cooley Master Class and is now one win away from the title.

“There is no point even thinking about the Rolex Grand Slam,” stated Oliver. “If a top class rider wins one of these in their careers that’s a huge achievement and something they are happy with for the rest of lives.

“So to win two in two weeks is asking an awful lot. But we’re in a good position”.

Soft ground conditions

However, riders are adamant this will not be a dressage competition, due to the cross-country’s soft ground conditions.

“It’s going to be a slog,” said Oliver of Eric Winter’s 32-fence course.

Thursday’s leaders, Ros Canter and Allstar B, are now in third place and their score of 23.9 is just over three marks off the leaders.

“My plan is to go out tomorrow and mean it,” said Ros. “I’m not renowned for being the fastest rider, but I’m sitting on a quick horse and he’s very fit.”

Cross-country starts tomorrow at 11.30am when all eyes will be on pathfinders, New Zealand’s Caroline Powell and Up Up And Away.

You can follow all the action on our FacebookTwitter and Instagram pages. We are also showing highlights of the whole competition on Saturday 12 May at 8pm on Horse & Country TV and Amazon Video