Andrew Nicholson leads at Badminton

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New Zealander Andrew Nicholson (pictured) produced a dressage test to end all dressage tests on Friday evening to take a substantial lead going into the cross-country phase tomorrow.

Although the British produced some high-quality performances to withstand the Australian challenge and finish in three out of the five top spots, riders from the Southern hemisphere were in abundance at the top of the table.

Last to go, New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson held his own on Lord Killinghurst in a test littered with nines to finish well clear of the leading British hopes on 36.6.

He said: “[Lord Killinghurst] kept pretty relaxed about the muddy conditions in there, and felt great to ride. I think though that the rain is going to make tomorrow very tiring for the horses, and there will be trouble all round the course. Riders will have to keep switched on from the start.”

Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt stunned an expectant crowd to finish in equal second, only 0.2 points ahead of Australian Andrew Hoy and British youngster Matthew Wright on 41.0.

Pippa Funnell wowed her fans with a neat test in a vibrant but muddy atmosphere on flamboyant Cornerman but by the time William entered the arena, the heavens had opened once again. In spite of one or two expressions of annoyance from part-bred Arab Tamarillo, the combination floated through the rain to join Pippa on a score of 40.8.

William said: “I was very pleased with him. The more the rain fell this afternoon, the more my jaw dropped. I wasn’t sure how it would affect his paces, and he did get quite irritated by it all.”

In a precise test, and showing great flair, Andrew Hoy exploited the full potential of Mr Pracatan to maintain Australian pressure and finish in equal fourth on 41.0.

He said: “Badminton would be very good to win. Being based in the UK, winning Badminton would mean much more than winning an Olympic gold medal for Australia.”

British Matthew Wright, who is the youngest rider here this year, provided a magnificent display on Mallards Treat to send him flying up to join the Australian on 41.0. A disappointing error on In The Purple yesterday gave Matthew a reminder of the correct order of the test.

All eyes now are turned to the cross-country. There was no let-up from the weather this afternoon, but course designer Hugh Thomas said that there was no cause for undue concern at present. Although the forecast is wet until tomorrow, Thomas said that short of an unexpected two-inch flash flood, “there is nothing in the forecast to make us believe that there is any threat to the event running.”

However, last-minute alterations were being made to fence 26, The Elephant Trap, following consultation with riders and official rider representatives. Thomas explained: “One or two riders, including Pippa Funnell, voiced concerns about the safety of the fence.

“Although nine out of 10 horses will jump the fence safely, a tired horse could jump short and land to fall backwards into the ditch. We have taken their fears into consideration and we are narrowing the ditch on the landing side,” he said.

Riders are still anxious about some other aspects of the course, and Andrew Hoy said: “My recommendation is that Hugh [Thomas] should start riding again. At The Sunken Road, the bottom line is that the distance is simply wrong. That is the only unfair question at this stage, I would say.

“However, the Shogun Sport Turn which I cunningly ran straight past a couple of years ago, may cause some problems. From a horse’s perspective, I would say that it would be tricky to see the definition of the ditch.”