AFTER two years of cancellations, the five-star Badminton Horse Trials finally began on Thursday at the South Gloucestershire venue. Two days of brilliant dressage kicked into action and at the end of the first phase, it is Tokyo Olympic team gold medallists Laura Collett and London 52 who hold a 2.4 penalty lead.

Collett was early to go on Friday morning with a near to flawless test when the 13-year-old gelding produced three scores of 10, ultimately finishing on 21.0 penalties, to head out to the cross-country tomorrow in pole position.

“I can’t believe how emotional I am,” Collett said after her test. “This is what you dream of. He is just so nice to ride, he was so with me and I am just so proud of him. Tomorrow is a whole different ballgame. It is very well built and there is a lot to do out there,” she said of the Derek di Grazia-designed cross-country track.

Her Tokyo teammate and individual silver medallist Tom McEwen set the standard when seventh into the arena on Thursday morning with Toledo de Kerser. The pair scored 23.4, which remained unchallenged for the rest of the day and he lies in second place.

“It’s a shame he didn’t do that test in Tokyo,” said Tom. “He was phenomenal. The half-passes were lovely, he was smooth in his body and kept up a great rhythm. It was pretty well mistake-free.”

The next six all came from the first day. Kitty King and Vendredi Biats scored an excellent 24.8 to sit third, just fractions ahead of 2021 Luhmühlen winners Mollie Summerland and Charly Van Ter Heiden on 24.9. USA’s biggest hope Tammie Smith had a solid start to score 25.3 with the highly rated Mai Baum.

Two Irish Sport Horses sit in joint-sixth place; the 2019 winner Vanir Kamira (Camiro de Haar Z x Dixi) with Piggy March, and the Oliver Townend-partnered Swallow Springs (Chillout x Cult Hero), both on a score of 25.7.

Piggy was happy with Vanir Kamira’s test. “That test felt okay, I’ll definitely take it; I don’t want to go back in there and do it again! I’ve been slightly panicking that she remembers 2019 too well. The last time we rode in the main arena here I milked it for all I could, doing a lap of honour 20 million times and yelling like a crazy thing,” she said with a laugh.

Townend also holds joint-eighth place with his Tokyo gold medallist Ballaghmor Class (ISH, by Courage). There was huge anticipation for their test, which came late on Friday, and he was perhaps left a touch disappointed with a higher than usual score of 25.9.

Susie Berry is best of the Irish in 18th place with Helen Canton and Caroline Berry’s 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding John The Bull (Luidam x Houmayoun), who was bred by James Byrne. The pair scored a solid 28.8 in a lovely test on their Badminton debut.

Fresh from a top-10 finish at Kentucky, Joseph Murphy was fifth into the arena on Thursday with The Way Forward Syndicate’s Cesar V and completed with a score of 31.5 to lie in 29th place, just ahead of Padraig McCarthy Fallulah (31.7) in 30th.

Cross-country action gets underway at 11.30am today (Saturday) and a full house is expected with all admission tickets sold out. Show jumping begins at 11.30am on Sunday, with the top 20 jumping from 3.30pm. All the action will be livestream on Badminton TV (subscription), and only the top 10 show jumping rounds will be shown on BBC2. There is no red button coverage of the event.