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Astier Nicolas rode an accurate and polished test on the morning of the first day of dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (4 May) to take the lead at this early stage of competition.

Riding his Rio Olympic team gold and individual silver medallist Piaf De B’Neville, the Frenchman impressed the judges to score 41.5.

Astier Nicolas and Piaf De B’Neville

“My horse likes to be on stage in front of the crowds which means I can ride for every mark,” explained Astier. “I’m so happy — he always gives me more than I think he has and it’s nice that he’s so rideable.”

This result comes as a welcome relief for the 28-year-old who was held at the first horse inspection yesterday.

Sir Mark Todd is 1.4 penalties behind Astier in second place. The New Zealander scored 42.9 on Leonidas II.

“I’m thrilled — that’s the best test he’s done,” said Mark of his 2016 Olympic ride. “It’s the first time he’s felt rideable and he didn’t put a foot wrong — maybe at the age of 13 he’s finally starting to grow up!”

Mark was, however, disappointed in himself for riding his final halt and salute in the wrong place, for which he was penalised.

“I halted at G and not I,” he confessed.

Badminton first-timer Alex Bragg was chuffed with his test on Zagreb to find himself currently lying in third place on a score of 44.6.

“There’s stuff we’ve got to fix and make better, but he’s gone in there and delivered the best he can at the moment. I’m thrilled to get over 70%,” said Alex.

Tina Cook is the next best placed Brit in fifth place riding Calvino. The pair scored 47.2.

“My horse has a lovely attitude, but with his eagerness to please he sometimes gets tight in the neck,” said Tina.

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Meanwhile, Laura Collett has withdrawn Grand Manoeuvre before the dressage.

The pair were held at the first trot-up and it has been revealed that the horse slipped over before the horse inspection and is stiff today, preventing them from carrying on.

Don’t miss this week’s H&H (on sale today, Thursday 4 May), including a 16-page Badminton pull-out with full form guide, dressage test, judge’s analysis, course map and more.