Former world eventing champion Ros Canter is on course for a first Badminton Horse Trials title after the dressage phase.
Lincolnshire-based Canter, who won the world crown in North Carolina five years ago, leads on Lordships Graffalo.
A score of 22.1 penalties edged 2016 Rio Olympian Kitty King and Vendredi Biats into second place overnight, but just 1.5 penalties separate the top five combinations.
Canter and Lordships Graffalo finished second behind Laura Collett and London 52 at Badminton last year, but 37-year-old Canter now has an outstanding chance of claiming the £105,000 top prize.
Sunday’s demanding cross-country phase will be pivotal – steady rain and testing conditions saw organisers make late alterations to five of the fences – while it all concludes with the showjumping phase on Monday.
“I have never ridden in these conditions (at five-star level). It will be a case of looking after the horse, riding what is under me and attacking.”
Townend, meanwhile, also has his 2017 Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class in the mix, keeping alive a possibility of finishing first and second, which was last achieved at Badminton 35 years ago by Scotsman Ian Stark.