AMERICAN Clark Montgomery, who is based in Tetbury, has taken the lead at the end of the two-day dressage section of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials on Friday.

Riding Loughan Glen, Montgomery produced an excellent penalty score of 33.3, taking top position from Thursday's overnight leader Paul Tapner (Kilronan) from Highworth.

“The horse has put in some good marks before and I knew he was capable of this standard if all went well,” said Montgomery, who rides from the yard of dressage judge Christian Landolt.

“He felt amazing. I knew he was capable of producing that sort of test, but it’s the first time he’s performed in front of a crowd like that. He loves an atmosphere and he really perked up in there.”

British favourite William Fox-Pitt, who has just claimed victory in the Kentucky leg of the Rolex Grand Slam, goes into the cross-country phase in equal seventh place on a penalty score of 41 riding Parklane Hawk.

He shares seventh spot with Marlborough-based former World No.1 the New Zealander Andrew Nicholson (Nereo).

Other local hopefuls at the top of the leaderboard include Devizes-based Aussie Lucinda Fredericks (fourth with Flying Finish on 39), Kiwi Sir Mark Todd from Badgerstown near Swindon (joint fifth – NZB Campino and joint ninth – Leonodas II), Dani Evans, from Woolard near Bath, who currently lies in 18th position on 44.5 aboard Raphael II and Tom McEwen (also from Badgerstown) in joint 20th with Diesel on 44.8.

Sadly, there was early disappointment for Vittoria Panizzon, the bookies' third favourite from Moreton-in-Marsh, who was forced to withdraw her London 2012 ride Borough Pennyz with a bruised foot.

More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the cross country phase of the event today (Saturday) despite forecasts of heavy rain and strong winds.

Organisers are already preparing for tricky conditions and have removed the middle element of fence 18, a trio of logs on an S-bend.

Tapner said: “That particular fence wasn’t in keeping with the rest of the course, which requires bold, forward-thinking riding and with the weather forecast as it is, I think it’s a good decision.”

As always, heavy traffic is predicted for all routes to Badminton, but visitors are being advised to avoid the B4039 in particular, as ‘JapFest’ is also taking place this weekend at the Castle Combe circuit.