By Catherine Austen and Kate Green

Ros Canter will go into the final cross-country phase in the lead in the CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-old horses at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials after showjumping clear on Izilot DHI.

Ros, the current world champion, was in first after dressage in this prestigious young horse class with a mark of 26.6 on her own and Alex Moody’s eight-year-old, and just added 1.6 time-faults round the demanding showjumping track.

“I couldn’t be more delighted with him – he’s never even done an advanced class before, let alone a four-star, and then I was away in Tokyo [where she was Britain’s reserve rider], so even coming here was a big ask,” said Ros. “I was confident he would have the scope to do it and he’s very brave, but he’s a spooky horse, and this was a clever track.

“I’m very open-minded about tomorrow’s cross-country – if he sets out and he’s green, I’ll slow down. Of course it would be great to win, but I am more excited about him winning an Olympic medal in the future, so I am realistic about what we will do tomorrow.”

Izilot DHI may be making his debut at CCI4* level, but he won the CCI3*-Ls at both Houghton Hall and Blair Castle this season.

There were only seven clears within the time in this morning’s showjumping – for which the spectacular main arena was shrouded in fog – from the 49 starters. Tom Jackson, second on Jonathan and Lexi Hambro and May-Britt Wedd’s HH Moonwalk, left all the poles up but collected two time-faults. He will therefore set out across country on a score of 29.6.

Tom said: “It’s obviously frustrating to get time-faults, but he’s an amazingly talented horse and I couldn’t really have asked more of him. He went a little bit tight in his body in the slightly eerie atmosphere, but he still jumped clear and he’s one for which we have big hopes for the future.”

Nicola Wilson has risen four places to third on Jo and James Lambert’s Coolparks Sarco after posting a clear round inside the time, remaining on her dressage mark of 29.8.

Caroline Harris is in fourth on Becky Stones’ Miss Pepperpot after adding just 0.4 of a time-fault to her dressage score of 30.4.

“She’s amazing!” said Caroline. “She’s only been eventing for two years, really, so she’s come a long way. This was a proper jumper’s track – not really in terms of height, but the distances really kept you thinking.

“She’s quite feisty and she likes to go – she’s been double clear [at CCI4*-S level] at Burgham and Hartpury, but anything can happen tomorrow.”

Willa Newton also jumped clear inside the time on Cock A Doodle Doo to take fifth place, while Piggy March is in sixth on Cooley Lancer.

Young rider Yasmin Ingham rode a perfectly judged cross-country round to hold on to pole position in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, and now has the biggest win of her career tantalisingly in her sights.

Riding Sue Davies and Janette Chinn’s French-bred Banzai Du Loir, Yasmin finished one second inside the optimum time of 10 minutes 28 seconds to hold a tiny 0.6 penalty advantage over the 2019 winner, Piggy March, with Brookfield Quality.

“I’ve never been in this position at a major competition before,” said a delighted Yasmin, for whom the huge cheering crowd had proved an inspiration. “I was really nervous – I just didn’t want to let the horse down. This would be my biggest achievement and I’m going to do my best to realise it.”

Piggy is also in sixth place on the Irish-bred Sportsfield Top Notch.

“He’s a brave horse,” she said of Brookfield Quality, who is owned by John and Chloe Perry and Alison Swinburne. “Coming here, there were a lot of unknowns, with the crowds and the atmosphere. He was hot, gazing at all the crowds and seemed quite distracted and I thought he might run a bit like a rabbit in the headlights and not focus and stay with me, but he was great. I couldn’t ask for any more of him.”

It is a stellar line-up ahead of tomorrow’s final jumping phase. The world champion Ros Canter is in third place on her rising star Lordships Graffalo, just ahead of Emily King in fourth on Valmy Biats and Ireland’s Susie Berry, fifth on John The Bull. Pippa Funnell has dropped a couple of places to seventh on Maybach, having picked up 1.2 cross-country time-penalties.

Ros, who is in the lead in the CCI4*-S class aboard Izilot DHI, said: “He [Lordships Graffalo] is the nicest horse I’ve ever ridden cross-country, because he goes as fast as you want him to go and when you sit up, he slows down in balance. He was on it today – he didn’t bat an eyelid at all the people, and made it feel easy which is exciting. The huge crowd, with kids running everywhere, was brilliant experience for these horses.”

Olympic team gold and individual silver medallist Tom McEwen is eighth on Bob Chaplin and his Tokyo team-mate Oliver Townend, the world number one, conjured a beautiful round from new ride Swallow Springs to lie ninth. Gemma Tattersall, recent winner of the Bicton CCI5*, is 10th on Jalapeño ll.

At the end of an exciting and successful day’s sport with a bumper crowd enjoying the sunshine and a return to top-level eventing competition, the price of one showjumping rail [four faults] covers the top 10 riders – of whom Yasmin, 24, is the youngest – thus guaranteeing a thrilling finale and a worthy 2021 Blenheim Palace champion. 

Tomorrow’s showjumping – and the cross-country for the CCI4*-S – can be watched live on Horse & Country TV’s streaming platform, H&C+.