Equiratings pegged Oliver Townend (GBR) and Swallow Springs as the favorites to win the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials in the UK with a 15% win chance.

Now the pair is working to prove the odds makers right.

Townend and the 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse landed atop the overnight leaderboard on the first day of dressage with a CCI5* personal best score of 23.2 penalties. The pair, partnered since 2021, have only once scored lower in dressage—a 22.6 at CCI4* in Alnwick, GBR.

Townend has delivered three of Badminton’s top dressage scores since 2010, according to Equiratings Stats & Stories, twice on his 2020 Olympic team gold medal mount Ballaghmor Class. His career high score at Badminton is a 19.7 with Cillnabradden Evo in 2019, where the pair finished sixth. His best with Ballaghmor Class was a 20.8 in 2018, followed by a 21.1 in 2019.

With Ballaghmor Class still to come Saturday, the world no. 4 is shooting for a one-two finish.

 “I’m hoping that one horse goes in front of Swallow Springs tomorrow and that’s my other one [second ride Ballaghmor Class]. I don’t think dressage is going to be the big story this weekend, but it’s a nice start,” said Townend, who finished third and fifth with the two greys in 2022.

Breathing down Townend’s neck at just 0.1 penalties behind are Gemma Stevens (nee Tattersall) and chestnut mare Jalapeno, a daughter of the 2015 winning horse Chilli Morning.

“She gave me a fantastic feeling in the dressage,” said Stevens. “I’ve been here for so many years with Arctic Soul, who struggled in the dressage [they were fourth in 2018], and I really enjoyed this. Jalapeno felt lovely and soft. She’s a brave horse and a blood horse so I’m going all out on Sunday to give it my best.”

The world no. 1, Tim Price, 44, is also aiming to add a Badminton title to his record. The New Zealander is currently lying in third place on first ride Vitali on a score of 27.1. His Maryland five-star winner Coup de Coeur Dedevin will be the very last horse into the arena on Saturday.

“I believe in him,” said Price. “I think he is a classic five-star horse and I am hoping that he will get it all together all on the one day, as he is an incredible dressage and cross-country horse who just has a bit of a weakness in the show jumping phase.”

Dressage starts at 8am on Saturday and will feature the likes of Tom McEwen (Toledo de Kerser), Kitty King (Toledo de Kerser), Emily King (Valmy Biats), Bubby Upton (Cola) and last year’s winner, Laura Collett (Dacapo).

Feature image: ©Helen Revington