Paul Tapner (AUS) is on course to win his second Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR), fourth leg of the FEI Classics™ 2013/2014, after a dramatic day of Cross Country action.

The 38-year-old Australian, second after Dressage on the mud-loving Irish gelding Kilronan, tackled the track early in the day and looked beatable when he took the long route at Huntsman’s Close (fence 22-23) and clocked 20 time penalties to finish on a score of 56.4.

However, strong winds, rain and holding ground made Guiseppe Della Chiesa’s revamped Cross Country course extremely influential and only 35 riders completed, none of them coming anywhere near the optimum time of 11 minutes 21 seconds.

The leader board looks completely different from yesterday, with only two of the top 10 after Dressage completing: Tapner plus Sir Mark Todd with his second ride Leonidas ll, which has dropped from equal ninth to 17th after picking up extra time penalties when the horse lost his line in the Lake and plunged into deep water.

Tim Price (NZL) rose from 41st after Dressage to second after a brilliant round on Ringwood Sky Boy with the fastest time of the day for 11.6 time penalties. Pascal Leroy (FRA) and the lovely Minos de Petra leapt 27 places to third with 15.2 time penalties.

“I didn’t think the course was unusually tough but you couldn’t make any mistakes,” Tapner said. “It’s Kilronan’s third four-star and he feels a different horse from last year, he’s far more mature. He does, however, tend to get on his forehand when he’s a bit tired and that’s why I took a long route near the end.”

Oliver Townend (GBR), the last British rider to win Badminton, in 2009, has jumped 30 places to fourth on the Spanish-bred Armada, ahead of Sam Griffiths (AUS), fifth on Paulank Brockagh.

Townend was emotional about his horse’s performance. “Everyone knows Armada is an amazing horse but he did, for the first time ever, feel tired by the time we got to the Quarry [fences 24-26]. However, he was such a good old horse and pricked his ears and picked up again.

“I think the course was fantastic. Giuseppe [Della Chiesa, Course Designer] has done an amazing job. It was a fair test and a proper Badminton course.”

Dressage leader Clark Montgomery (USA) retired Loughan Glen after a refusal at the big corner in Huntsman’s Close near the end of the course (fences 22-23). Francis Whittington (GBR), lying third, retired Easy Target here, and Lucinda Fredericks (AUS), fourth, pulled up Flying Finish after fence 5.

Mark Todd and Sara Algotsson-Ostholt (SWE), who were equal fifth after Dressage, both fell; Todd found himself sitting inelegantly on top of the brush box at the Shogun Hollow (11) when NZB Campino refused, while the Swedish rider had a fall at Huntsman’s Close on Reality 39.

William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Andrew Nicholson (NZL) who were in equal seventh, both fell when challenging for the lead. Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk fell at a hedge three fences from home when going well, and Nicholson tipped off when Nereo hit the rail exiting the Mirage Pond (16). Nicholson retired his first horse Quimbo following a run-out at the brush keyhole at 13.

Peter Flarup (DEN), equal ninth after Dressage, had a fall with Callista E at the spread fence before the Lake (7). Mary King (GBR), 12th, miraculously survived a sticky moment when Imperial Cavalier crawled through the keyhole fence only to have a refusal at the Mirage Pond.

Jonelle Price (NZL), 14th, walked home on The Deputy after an early run-out at the skinny brush at 5, while her husband, Tim, took a dunking in the Lake with his second ride, Wesko.

Christopher Burton (AUS), equal 20th on the Adelaide CCI4* winner TS Jamaimo, had a run-out at the Vicarage Vee (fence 15); Kristina Cook (GBR) had a glance-off at fence 5 with De Novo News and Pippa Funnell was frustrated to fall at the log at 18 when going beautifully on her second ride Redesigned.

Funnell, however, was elated with her first horse, the home-bred 10-year-old Billy Beware, with which she is in sixth place after a masterful clear round for 24 time penalties. “He’s the first Billy Stud horse to do Badminton!” she said.

“I know it wasn’t all copybook, but I am so excited about his future. He kept digging deep and got me out of trouble a couple of times, which is the sign of a really good horse.”

Harry Meade (GBR), who is in eighth place on Wild Lone behind flying Dutchman Tim Lips (Keyflow NOP), was also thrilled with his day. Meade is back in action after breaking both elbows in a fall last August. “This is what I came back for, the real seat-of-the-pants stuff,” he said. “My wife, Rosie, was nervous, but I told her this is what I love doing. I’ve known my horse since he was four years old and we just got on with the job.”

Tapner, who has been based near Badminton since 2000, looks set to lift a second Mitsubishi Motors Trophy, his first victory coming in 2010 on Inonothing. However, after a day full of surprises, it’s clear that nothing is a certainty. Tapner and Kilronan have a fence in hand, but the next group of four riders are all within a fence of each other and are all equally determined to make history in Badminton’s 65th year.

Results after Cross Country

1 Paul Tapner/Kilronan (AUS) 36.0 + 20.4 = 56.4
2 Tim Price/Ringwood Sky Boy (NZL) 50.0 + 11.6 = 61.6
3 Pascal Leroy/Minos de Petra (FRA) 47.3 + 15.2 = 62.5
4 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 48.7 + 14.0 = 62.7
5 Sam Griffiths/Paulank Brockagh (AUS) 46.3 + 17.6 = 63.9
6 Pippa Funnell/Billy Beware (GBR) 42.3 + 24.0 = 66.3
7 Tim Lips/Keyflow NOP (NED) 52.5 + 14.0 = 66.5
8 Harry Meade/Wild Lone (GBR) 51.0 + 16.4 = 67.4
9 Ludwig Svennerstal/Alexander (SWE) 53.2 + 18.8 = 72.0
10 Lucy Jackson/Willy Do (NZL) 47.2 + 24.8 = 72.0

Full results here.