Oliver Townend was back in a familiar position on the leaderboard following the first day of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials as he began his title defence in style.
The 35-year-old reigning champion, based near Ellesmere in Shropshire, was first into the arena in the dressage and scored 27.2 on 13-year-old gelding MHS King Joule.
But no-one was able to catch the two-time Burghley winner as he remained on top of the rest of the pack to the end of the opening day of action at the four-star event, one of only six in the eventing calendar.
Townend has been in formidable form since winning Burghley last year, following it up with another four-star win at Lexington on Cooley Master Class in the spring.
And with two more horses still to come, the current world number one said he was more than satisfied with MHS King Joule’s start to the three-day event.
“I was happy enough with MHS King Joules and if he stays on that marker I’ll be happy,” said Townend, who also competed on the horse at Lexington in Kentucky earlier this year.
“It’s always obviously difficult going first in, but it was inevitable that was going to happen with three horses entered and I have no complaints at all.
“This is very different to Kentucky. It was a real confidence boost for him and me I think, and he’s been really good since. Fingers crossed we’ll continue on a good roll.”
Townend will now turn his attention to his other two horses, Cooley SRS and last year’s winning horse Ballaghmor Class, who will compete in the dressage today.
He has plenty of company at the top of the leaderboard, though, with Sarah Bullimore (27.3) and Harry Meade (29.5) right on his coat-tails after the first day of action.
Thursday and Friday’s dressage are followed by cross-country on Saturday and show jumping on Sunday at family-friendly Burghley, which attracts 160,000 visitors each year and hosts the top equestrians on the planet.
And the European Championship gold medallist is already looking forward to the challenge posed by the revamped cross-country course designed by Captain Mark Phillips.
“I’ve walked the cross-country course and it’s very undulating, very stamina-sapping and seriously big. Burghley is always big, but for me it’s the biggest one in terms of dimensions.”
Following his impressive triumph at Lexington, Townend narrowly missed out on becoming only the third rider to win the Grand Slam at Badminton, coming second with Cooley SRS.
He was previously also a member of the gold medal winning British team at the 2017 European Championships at Strzegom, also on Cooley SRS.
But despite being in a strong run of form, Townend was a surprise omission from the British Equestrian squad for next month’s World Equestrian Games.
He had been long-listed on three horses, Ballaghmor Class, Cooley Master Class and Cooley SRS, but he was left out of the final squad for the event in Tyron, North Carolina.
The multi-award-winning Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials from August 30 – September 2 has been established as a major international equestrian and social event in the Autumn Sporting Calendar for over 50 years. For more information visit burghley-horse.co.uk