HIGHWORTH-BASED Aussie Paul Tapner leads the chase for the £50,000 Event Rider Masters series bonus prize heading into the final Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials leg on September 10-11.

But his advantage has been cut to just one point after he could finish only sixth on the now-retired Kilronan in the penultimate leg of the series, the Blair Castle Equi-Trek International Horse Trials in Scotland.

Any one of Tapner (93pts), Gemma Tattersall (92), Oliver Townend (74) or Wiltshire-based Jonelle Price (71) could take the overall prize.

Townend is making a great late bid for the title having taken back-to-back victories at Gatcombe and Blair Castle aboard Cillnabradden Evo, winning the £16,000 first prize on each occasion.

It was a British 1, 2, 3 on podium with Townend being joined by Gatcombe Park-based Tom McEwen (Diesel) with Gemma Tattersall (Santiago Bay), fresh from the Rio Olympics, in third.

Jock Paget originally finished in second place aboard Angus Blue but was subsequently found to have jumped the wrong side of a flag on the cross-country section and was disqualified.

McEwen, who became the first rider under the age of 25 to feature on an ERM podium, said: “I am so relieved to be back competing on Diesel. He was fantastic today and is such a class horse.

"I am delighted for him and also to feature on the ERM podium today.”

It was a remarkable performance by horse and rider as Diesel has been injured and had not seen a cross-country fence for two years. The winner Townend, from Ellesmere, Shropshire, took over the ride on Cillnabradden Evo from Andrew Nicholson after the New Zealand rider had a near-career ending fall from him at Gatcombe 2015.

Townend and Cillnabradden Evo were faultless show jumping and added an impressive clear round on the cross-country course with just 2.4 time penalties taking their final score 45.2. McEwen finished on 56.1 with Gemma Tattersall scoring 57.7.

Overnight dressage leader Bettina Hoy and Seigneur Medicott had two costly poles down in the showjumping and then had an unfortunate run-out toward the end of the cross-country.

Commenting on the series going down to the wire, leader Tapner said: “We always thought Oliver was well suited to this series and he’s certainly making a strong late challenge.

"Gemma has also been very threatening on the leader-board in all her ERM starts and Jonelle is a very fierce competitor.

"I hope my horse Yogi Bear can pull something special out of the picnic basket at Blenheim in order to secure us the series.”