British Olympic horses Primmore’s Pride and Tamarillo showed their true class late on Saturday afternoon, flying the home flag with neat performances around the cross-country course. Pippa Funnell finished the day a mere 1.6 penalties ahead of William Fox-Pitt, who cruised around on cross-country machine Tamarillo.

There was talk in the run up to the 2005 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials that it was a softer cross-country course than in previous years, but cross-country day proved as influential as ever, bearing out Andrew Hoy’s theory that “It’s not a soft course – but it’s so well built it looks easier than it is.”

The Two Andrews – Hoy and Nicholson – got the day off to a promising start with fluent and quick rounds, but Leslie Law proved that this sport is never plain sailing. At the top of his sport one minute, hitting the deck on both of his Olympic veterans the next. As if Shear H2O’s fall at the platform into the Quarry wasn’t unlucky enough, Shear L’eau landed flat on his face at the Vicarage Vee.

There were equally dramatic falls for British stalwarts Tina Cook and Bumble Thomas. Captain Christy’s mistake at the gate out of the Huntsman’s Close in the latter half of the course resulted in Tina, who gave birth only 11 weeks ago, being airlifted to hospital as a precaution. She was found to have fractured her fourth thoracic vertebrae, but is expected to make a full recovery. Bumble suffered a nasty-looking fall when Nabataean Treat failed to pick his feet up coming out of the lake, but did not suffer any serious injury.

Even the day’s winners weren’t without their troubles. There was a nasty moment for Pippa Funnell coming out of the Huntsman’s Close over the upright gate. “I thought I might have had it,” she said. “It just came upon me so suddenly that I just hadn’t had time to think what side to go.”

William Fox-Pitt expressed his relief that his mistake at the Quarry was answered by the cat-like Tamarillo. “He is just such a machine, he found the time too easy. But then there was one of those awful moments at the Quarry where I thought the stride was there, and then it wasn’t. It was one of those moments when I was just incredibly pleased to be on Tam. He absolutely saved my bacon.”

It was a good day for first-timers. Twenty-eight year old Yoshiaki Oiwa, the first Japanese competitor at Badminton, sped round on Olympic veteran Voyou du Roc to finish the cross-country phase well up the leaderboard in third. Yoshiaki has been based with the Hoys at Gatcombe for two years and delighted Bettina by finishing ahead of both of Andrew’s horses today.

“When my mother first took me to a riding school, I really didn’t want to ride. I did start to get into it a little more on the junior show jumping circuit in Japan, and then at university, where we forced to compete in all three disciplines, I thought cross-country riding was absolutely thrilling. Then, watching the Sydney 2000 Olympics on television, I set my heart on eventing”, explains the young Japanese rider.

“I used to dream about competing at Badminton or the Olympics, but I never thought I actually would. I came here just hoping to complete. It’s ‘Rocky’s’ last event – at 17, he is due a well-earned rest,” he added.

Oliver Townsend rode a cracking round on Topping, finishing well inside the time, showing his more experienced counterparts how to do it, Kitty Boggis on Five Boys and American youngster Will Faudree also looked impressive, as did Start and Potential rider Abi Walters on Uther Pendragon II.

It was a historic cross-country today – this is the last year that the steeplechase will be held at Badminton. William Fox-Pitt was just one of the riders to express his regret. “I retired my first ride – Ballincoola on the chase because his heart was fibrillating. Without the chase, that could have been happening well into the cross country course, and you might keep going approaching a fence, thinking it will all be ok. The steeplechase is a really good tester for the condition of the horse.”

There will be all to play for tomorrow. Less than two rails split the top seven, and there are five Olympic combinations lying in the top 10. Tomorrow’s result is anything but a foregone conclusion, but today, it is eventing’s golden girl who continues to rule the roost.

Results after cross-country

1. Primmore’s Pride (Pippa Funnell) 44.5
2. Tamarillo (William Fox-Pitt) 46.1
3. Voyou du Roc (Yoshiaki Oiwa JAP) 51.0
4. Master Monarch (Andrew Hoy AUS) 51.7
5. Lord Killinghurst (Andrew Nicholson NZL) 52.0
6. Over to You (Jeanette Brakewell) 52.2