Twenty-five-year-old New Zealand rider James Avery leads the way in the SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials eight- and nine-year-old CIC3*, riding Vitali.

The pair scored an impressive mark of 24.2 to sit 2.2 penalties ahead of second-placed British rider, Alexander Bragg and Shannondale Percy.

“Our test was fault-free so I’m pretty pleased with him,” said James, who moved to the UK in 2013. “My horse did what he was told and enjoyed it — there were no big, silly marks that he gave away.”

Vitali, an eight-year-old, was originally produced to novice level by Jock Paget, but James took over the ride and yard owned by Joe and Alex Giannamore, where Jock was based before his move back to New Zealand, a couple of years ago.

“Vitali is starting to get more supple and is taking bigger steps now — he’s improving all-round.”

The Holsteiner, by Contender, out of a Heraldik mare, won Gatcombe CIC2* last autumn and also won Rockingham CIC2* this spring, so James has high hopes for him.

“He’s an exciting horse and I’m lucky with how trainable he is,” explained James. “I knew he could do a good test and as we’ve produced some good work at home and you always hope to be in the mix, but to actually be up there is great. He’s a good jumper but is only eight and sometimes has a few green moments. He’s 65% blood and has got the right breeding so we’re looking forward to the cross-country.”

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Laura Schroter is third on Willem Van Wup with a score of 27.1, while Laura Collett fills fourth and fifth spots on Dacapo and London 52 respectively, with five penalties separating the top 10.

The showjumping phase of this class gets underway at 8.30am tomorrow (15 September).

Keep up-to-date with all the latest reports from Blenheim via horseandhound.co.uk and don’t miss the full report in next week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine, out on 20 September