Former world eventing champion Ros Canter is within touching distance of a first Badminton Horse Trials title after she conquered punishing cross-country conditions to take pole position.
Lincolnshire-based Canter flourished with Lordships Graffalo ‚Äď Badminton runners-up behind Laura Collett last year ‚Äď on a day when many combinations floundered.
Double Olympic medallist Tom McEwen described the stamina-sapping going as ‚Äúhorrific‚ÄĚ, and none of the starters threatened to jump clear inside the optimum time.
Canter, who won the world crown in North Carolina five years ago, can afford to have two fences down in Monday‚Äôs showjumping finale and still land the ¬£105,000 top prize.
Thirty combinations completed the cross-country test, with almost half the field either being eliminated or deciding to retire.
‚ÄúIt felt hard work in terms of galloping,‚ÄĚ 37-year-old Canter said.
‚ÄúA horse like him should be celebrated ‚Äď I have not sat on anything like him before. Tomorrow is another day, but whatever happens, he is a star.‚ÄĚ
O‚ÄôConnor rocketed 32 places up the leaderboard after dressage, adding just 10.8 penalties to his score in pursuit of a crown that has not been won by an Irish rider since Major Eddie Boylan in 1965.
Cork-born O‚ÄôConnor, who is based in Oxfordshire, said: ‚ÄúThe horse was amazing. He is the real deal.
‚ÄúIt was the hardest he has had to try in a five-star event, but he is full of class. I‚Äôve got a great team at home and they have kept him very fit.
‚ÄúHe is one of the best horses in the world, and I am a lot older than I look! I have ridden a lot of cross-country courses in the wet before.‚ÄĚ
McEwen, meanwhile, lies fifth on Toledo De Kerser, just behind world number one Tim Price, with Gemma Stevens in sixth and Canter holding seventh spot aboard her second ride Pencos Crown Jewel.