Todd takes early lead at Burghley Horse Trials
Veteran eventer Sir Mark Todd insists he always knew a perfect performance could be in store for horse Leonidas II after taking an early lead at the 2017 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
The New Zealander and his steed lead the way after the dressage discipline, the first in a three-day event upon which Sir Mark has plenty of history.
Five times he has been a Burghley winner, the last of which came in 1999, and with an opening score of 36.7 the odds are certainly in his favour for that to be a possibility once again.
But it will be far from a formality for the FEI Event Rider of the 20th Century, with America's Lauren Kieffer within just 0.3 of his score – two of just five riders to post a sub-40 dressage score.
Experience doesn't come much greater than that of the 61-year-old, who is delighted to open his weekend on a positive note ahead of the world-famous cross-country course on Saturday.
"I was pretty pleased with that, he's a horse whose ability we've always known, but he can get excitable and fractious in the dressage," he said.
"I felt this year he has grown up a lot, his dressage scores have been getting better and better and he went in there and got to a point where he couldn't have done any better.
"I haven't won Burghley this century, so that would be nice!
"He stayed attentive, went in the ring and lit up a little bit but that was a good thing, it gave him a little bit of ping in his work, but he's a very subtle horse.
"Going late in the cross country can have its advantages, you see how fences are riding, but the disadvantage is having to sit all day, wait and wonder what might happen.
"But I've been here quite a few times, I've gone early and late so we'll wait and see, I know this horse is a very good jumper and I've got a lot of confidence in him."
Also looking in good form is Sir Mark's fellow New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, with the five-time champion and Marlborough-based eventer fourth atop Nereo.
That was thanks to a dressage score of 39.5, in a good place to repeat if not better his runners-up spot on the same horse exactly 12 months ago.
But this is not the only horse he is to take round Saturday's cross-country, with the challenge of also riding Qwanza one even he, as a Burghley legend, is looking forward to.
"It's always nice to be close to the lead, but I've not been able to win a four-star after leading after a dressage, so I'm very happy with where I am," he said.
"Qwanza jumped fabulously at Badminton, she's beautiful and genuine to ride, gives you 100 per cent and is as tough as can be.
"She's very fit, been working well and we'll probably start off with a quicker tempo than we did at Badminton.
"With Nereo, it's not his favourite place in the world and he knows it's hard work, he'll do his bit and he's been galloping very well at home, so there's no reason he can't do what he's done before."