Andrew Nicholson and Mr Smiffy lead the pack going into cross-country day at Pedigree Burghley Horse Trials

Last year’s Burghley winners Andrew Nicholson and Mr Smiffy are once more at the head of affairs after the second day’s dressage. They hold a minuscule lead of 0.2 of a penalty over William Fox-Pitt, the 1994 champion, and his chance ride Springleaze Macaroo, who in turn is 0.2 ahead of the 1998 winner Blyth Tait, riding his former world and Olympic champion Ready Teddy.

All three riders, mounted on eye-catching white-faced chestnuts, produced graceful, attractive tests to take them ahead of yesterday’s leader, Mary King on King Solomon.

Australian rider Phillip Dutton, again on a white-faced chestnut, is in fifth place on his Lexington four-star runner-up Simply Red andPippa Funnell, with her second ride Cornerman, is sixth.

Nicholson, 40, only rides Mr Smiffy in competition and paid tribute to the “brilliant job” done on the horse by Ken Clawson, who keeps him for owners Janet Oliver and Paul Davies, and dressage trainer Tracy Foster.

Fox-Pitt also paid tribute to “Mac’s” regular jockey, Katie Parker, who is recovering from a smashed pelvis sustained in a fall from a novice horse last month.

“This horse has been produced absolutely correctly. He’s lovely to ride and very straightforward. He is hard to sit to, though, and I have been told that he can get strong, although he wasn’t on the only two occasions I have competed him [Hartpury advanced, fourth, and Thirlestane Castle advanced, third]. My only worry about the cross-country is his fitness and the fact that he isn’t a full Thoroughbred for what is probably going to be a speed course. But I know he is a good jumper.”

Springleaze Macaroo, who is owned by Avon Vale joint-master Ben Walden, was produced by Simon Long, who died as a result of a fall with the horse at Burghley two years ago.

Blyth Tait was absolutely delighted with Ready Teddy, who can play the fool in the dressage arena, but this time was on his best behaviour, despite the pressurised atmosphere of a crowded Friday afternoon arena.

“He mucked up the flying changes a bit because he has done this test about a hundred times and was anticipating them. And the walk is his favourite place to explode, and I thought he was going to when the rain started falling on the canvas roof of the arena,” said Blyth.

Andrew Nicholson was guarded about his view of Mike Tucker’s “budget” course.

“I wouldn’t like to be riding a non-Thoroughbred,” he said. “The beginning is quite small, then there are some difficult twisty combinations, and then the last part is just galloping with nothing to slow riders down. I would have liked to see some more combinations there.”

Great Britain leads Australia and New Zealand in the informal team competition, which is being used as a test format for the Athens 2004 Olympics with two show jumping phases, the first to decide team placings, the second to decide individual. William Fox-Pitt says he “isn’t looking forward to it”, but Blyth Tait says he is quite happy as his horses tend to show jump well. “We’ve got to keep an open mind about it,” he said.

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