Nicolas Touzaint (pictured) is in line to become the first Frenchman to win the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials after finishing the cross-country day in top spot.
Nicolas took the lead after adding just 4.8 time-penalties to his dressage score with last year’s Pau winner Hildago De L’Ile.
“I saw the other riders go, but I stuck to my ideas and it went more or less as planned,” said Nicolas. “My horse needed to breathe in the eighth minute, I just steadied his canter and he finished in good shape and was jumping well.”
At the end of the afternoon all eyes were on Mary King and William Fox-Pitt, who could have edged ahead of Nicolas had they gone clear and near the optimum time. But both had expensive blunders at the end of the course.
First Mary fell off when Imperial Cavalier left a leg on the second angled log of the Rolex Crossing, the penultimate fence. So British hopes were pinned on final rider William Fox-Pitt, who looked like he could get near the time as he approached The Lancer Village, fences 23, 24 and 25. But William and Tamarillo took a flyer over the first house and ran past the second.
William still has early ride Ballincoola in fourth place, and Brits hold second and third places too. Lucy Wiegersma played it safe with a couple of long routes on Shaabrak and added 8.4 time-penalties, but is still just 1.4 penalties behind Nicolas Touzaint.
She explained: “My plan A was not to take any long routes, but I had a hairy moment into the sunken road [the Blue Cross Roundtops at fence 12]. My plan was to get a deep round jump at the first element, but as he took off he was a bit too deep and left a leg or two — I’m not sure how many, I was just trying to stay on — and I ended up having to take the long route at the D element.
“Then at the Colt Pond I felt I’d have to strangle him to get to the straight route out and I had in my mind that we’d made a serious jumping mistake two fences before, so my instinct told me to go round. I was 40sec down coming out of the Vicarage Ditch area, but he’s very fit and very quality and made up 20sec coming home.”
Polly Stockton held the lead for much of the day with her early clear inside the time and ends the phase in third with Tom Quigley. The only other rider inside the time was Georgie Davies, who is fifth with Fachoudette.
There were shocks too in the middle of the day, when both the first two horses after dressage fell. First phase leader Moon Fleet was too far off the brush corner in the Irish Sport Horse Studbook’s Huntsman’s Close, paddled through it and fell on landing with Andrew Hoy.
Ruth Edge and Muschamp Impala, second after dressage, both got a ducking when the horse left both front legs on the wave into The Lake and fell.
Matthew Wright went well in the early part of the course with If You Want II, fourth after dressage, but the horse seemed to run out of energy in the tacky going and Matthew pulled up at The Lancer Village.
British first-timer Dee Kennedy was taken to Frenchay Hospital for a check up after falling off when Big El ballooned into The Horse Deals Quarry.
RESULTS AFTER CROSS-COUNTRY
1. Hildago De L’Ile (Nicolas Touzaint, FRA) 44.4
2. Shaabrak (Lucy Wiegersma, GBR) 45.8
3. Tom Quigley (Polly Stockton, GBR) 46.7
4. Ballincoola (William Fox-Pitt, GBR) 48.1
5. Fachoudette (Georgie Davies, GBR) 49.6
6. Coup De Coeur (Oliver Townend, GBR) 49.6
Keep up to date with twice daily reports from Badminton on www.horseandhound.co.uk and don’t forget to buy H&H next Thursday (8 May) for a 16 page report, with comments from Carl Hester, Ginny Elliot and William Fox-Pitt.