Four-star veteran Armada went within touching distance of a dressage personal best at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials as 2009 champion Oliver Townend made a major statement of intent.
Townend, the last British winner of Badminton, cajoled a score of 39.6 out of the 16-year-old to move second behind first day leader Andrew Nicholson.
Armada is a full brother of Nicholson’s ride Nereo, and they dominated the leaderboard as this year’s dressage phase neared its conclusion.
Townend posted 39.5 with Armada at Luhmuhlen in Germany three years ago, but the Yorkshireman feels that today ‘s performance was comfortably his best.
“Everyone knows Armada and what he can do, and to get it right for once is great,” said Townend, who was Badminton runner-up last year behind Australian Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh.
“I think that is the first time he has gone in at Badminton and behaved.
“It is the first time he has gone into Badminton and felt like he was there to do his job in the dressage. Before, it has been like sitting on eggshells.
“He has done a 39.5 at Luhmuhlen, but I think that was a bit of inflation in the judging for everyone that year, so I think today was his best test. There was no inflation going on in there (today).”
And looking ahead to Saturday’s cross-country – at which Armada is rated among the world’s best – Townend added: “We are at Badminton, and things happen that you would never expect, as we saw last year with some of the top conbinations.
“We have got to jump the fences and go between the flags, but at least we are now at the bit (of the competition) where people’s opinions don’t count.
“The course is twisting and turning a little bit, and when you’ve got one that has a huge stride like he has, then turning can become difficult, but if he tries his best and I try my best then we should be good.”