Belgian rider Karin Donckers (pictured) leads after the dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, but young British stars Lucy Wiegersma and Oliver Townend are close behind in second and third.
Little changed at the top of the leader board for most of this morning, until Italian first-timer Roberto Rotatori, 41, took second with Irham De Viages just before lunch.
But the bests tests were always expected to be in the last session, which didn’t disappoint, despite strong winds increasing the tension in the main arena.
Karin Donckers put in a light, flowing test with the Pellaux family’s 14-year-old mare Gazelle De La Brasserie, who was second after dressage at the Olympics last year. She scored 38.8 today to take the lead.
“Maybe in relation to the Olympics she wasn’t so relaxed, but there are big crowds and wind here,” said Karin. “I can always count on a good test with this mare.”
Listen to Karin Donckers’ interview
Lucy Wiegersma admitted she thought she was into “damage limitation territory” with Shaabrak, who felt “the most tense I’ve known him during a test”.
“I was quite disappointed when I came out, but it obviously looked better than it felt,” said Lucy, who is just 0.9pen behind Karin.
Oliver Townend was “thrilled” with Flint Curtis, third here in 2006.
“Since he came here then he’s been excitable in the dressage, and this is the first time since at a major three-day that I’ve been able to sit on my backside and ride him,” said Oliver.
Zara Phillips scored excellent marks during her trotwork with Toytown, but the horse tried to spin round in the rein-back and showed tension after that in the canter. She is ninth on 45.3.
Listen to Zara Phillips’ interview
Sharon Hunt’s Tankers Town actually span round in the rein-back this morning, and it has been suggested this was caused by horses catching sight of the scoreboard.
Lucy Wiegersma said of Hugh Thomas’s cross-country course: “It’s not quite as tough as last year, but still big, bold and aggressive. There are plenty of jumping efforts in the last mile.”
Oliver Townend described it as “not the most inspiring course if you are down the leader board”. But he added: “It’s still Badminton and it’s intense all the way round — in comparison to recent years you’ll have to concentrate to the end more.”
Both Oliver and Lucy said they think the ground is superb, but will ride quite fast.
William Fox-Pitt is the pathfinder, setting off at 11am with Macchiato.
FINAL DRESSAGE RESULTS
1. Karin Donckers on Gazelle De La Brasserie (BEL) 38.8
2. Lucy Wiegersma on Shaabrak (GBR) 39.7
3. Oliver Townend on Flint Curtis (GBR) 40.5
4. Emily Baldwin on Drivetime (GBR) 42.3
5. William Fox-Pitt on Idalgo (GBR) 42.8
6. Roberto Rotatori on Irham De Viages (ITA) 43.7
Log back on to www.horseandhound.co.uk tomorrow for a mid-action cross-country report, plus an end of day update.
Don’t forget to buy H&H next week (14 May) — our 15-page Badminton report will include comments from Carl Hester, Mark Todd and Tina Cook, plus cross-country course analysis and plenty of colour photographs.