Those who anticipated a world beating test from Ros Canter and her Pau CCI 5*L winner, Izilot DHI, were not disappointed.

The pair entered the arena like they owned it and brought off the most beautiful display, scoring 25.3 and finishing a full two points ahead of her nearest rival, yesterday’s leader Bubby Upton.

“He is a wonderful horse, one of the best in the world and an absolute pleasure to ride,” said a delighted Canter. “He has a spooky streak and certainly noticed the camera on the ground at A but he has grown up a huge amount—much more than we expected, and seems to be really enjoying himself.”

Canter now has a 30% chance of becoming a back-to-back Badminton winner, according to EquiRatings’ Eventing Prediction Centre, while Upton and Cola’s win chance rose six points to 9% after the completion of dressage.

New Zealand’s Tim Price completes the top three after dressage on a mark of 27.7, putting him ahead of USA’s Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF and a long way off their personal best. At Burghley last year he and Vitali produced a record-breaking score of 18.7.

“We have seen what he can do and we would love that kind of test time and time again but life’s not like that—they are a living, breathing animal!” said Price. “He warmed up really well, more relaxed than Burghley, strangely enough, but there is an electric atmosphere here, it is early in the season, he’s a very fit horse and it’s a lot for them.”

Price has yet to win at Badminton and would love to see his name on the trophy alongside that of his wife, Jonelle. His best result to date was a third in 2017 on Xavier Faer.

Great Britain’s Emily King, daughter of two-time winner Mary King, has slipped herself between Martin and fellow American Tiana Coudray, scoring 29.2 with Valmy Biats. Coudray’s score of 29.8 was the only other sub 30 score.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s cross country, Upton said, “I have walked the course several times today and my plans have definitely changed since my initial thoughts. I’m not very good at walking long routes, and haven’t done so yet—there is only a plan A for me but I will definitely acquaint myself with them before we set off tomorrow!

“I have done more biking than walking this year (due to her spinal injury and operation), which is a bit unsettling. I usually like to know each blade of grass on the course personally!”

The recent sunshine has dried the course out significantly but may create holding going.

“I think I would be a rich person if I had a pound for every time someone has asked me about the ground this week,” Canter commented. “The ground is the same for all of us—I will stay in my own little bubble. He is an exceptionally brave horse, really honest as well, but it’s an unknown for me and him going into tomorrow in terms of stamina and going 11 minutes 19. I’m going out with the intention of going fast and clear but I am going to listen to what he is telling me because I know I have a world class horse for the future.”

The biggest laugh of the day was when Canter was asked: “Do you think you enjoyed childbirth more than going cross country at Badminton?” Her reply: “Today it’s going cross country at Badminton, but by tomorrow morning I may have changed my mind!”

Asked the same question, Tim Price quipped, “I thought childbirth was pretty straightforward, isn’t it?!”

Sixty-seven horses will start the cross-country phase on Saturday. Catch all the action on Badminton TV.