Sarah Carless reports ..

New Zealander Jonelle Price is eyeing a third successive win at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials after taking the lead in the CIC3* dressage.

Jonelle, who is currently the highest ranked female rider in the world, has won the last two contests of class for eight- and nine-year-old horses, in 2014 on Faerie Dianimo, her ride at the Rio Olympics, and Cloud Dancer II last year. After two days of dressage she leads with Ascona M on a score of 34.6 penalties.

Pippa Funnell, the most successful rider in Blenheim’s history, with four victories, is in second place on MGH Grafton Street. Oliver Townend, the British number one, is in close contention on Cooley SRS with a score of 36.1.

“I feel I’ve got a bit of a mountain to climb and quite a lot to live up to,” Jonelle confessed.

“Ascona is relatively low on mileage and has been quite green. She’s a beautiful mare and very quality but my real purpose was to set her up for next year as this is such a great competition for young horses. But I’m a competitor so I will be giving it my best shot.”

Jonelle rides Cloud Dancer II in the Event Rider Masters finale, which starts on Saturday. She is one of four riders – with Oliver, Gemma Tattersall and Australia’s Paul Tapner – in with a chance of scooping the bonus prize for earning the most points in the series.

A stellar field for the last leg of the Event Rider Masters includes five Olympic gold medallists – Astier Nicolas, Cedric Lyard, Andrew Hoy, Blyth Tait and Mark Todd – plus former world champion Zara Phillips, who won her European title here at Blenheim in 2005.

The top of the CCI3* leaderboard remains unchanged. Germany’s Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott head Harry Meade on new ride Orlando by nearly seven penalties and USA rider Hannah Sue Burnett is third on Harbour Pilot.

Bettina has been assessing Eric Winter’s cross-country course: “It’s a big challenge with plenty of big questions out there. The water, which we cross twice, is always a good test. Blenheim is such a good stepping stone for four-star level; it’s a must before you move up.”

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