William Fox-Pitt turned back the clock with a vintage performance that put him in title contention on what could be his final Mars Badminton Horse Trials appearance.

The 55-year-old Olympian collected just 2.4 time penalties with Grafennacht on a testing cross-country course that put him in second place ahead of Sunday’s showjumping finale.

While reigning European champion and leader after dressage Ros Canter retired during her round, Fox-Pitt glided up the leaderboard in pursuit of a £117,500 top prize.

He is just 1.3 penalties behind New Zealander Tim Price, who leads aboard Vitali on a score of 31.7, with Ireland’s Badminton debutant Lucy Latta third and Emily King, whose mother Mary won Badminton twice, in fourth.

Fox-Pitt’s stellar eventing career has harvested three Olympic, six world and 11 European medals, in addition to two Badminton crowns and six victories at Britain’s other elite five-star competition Burghley.

“I was trying very hard. She is an amazing mare, just fabulous,” Dorset-based Fox-Pitt said.

“This will potentially be my last Badminton and I wanted to come home well. My boys would have certainly given me a rollicking if I hadn’t!

“I am very lucky. I am 55 and I’ve had an amazing time here at Badminton. I probably ought to grow up now and get a new habit.”

Fox-Pitt has an advantage of 4.2 penalties over Latta, who had the day’s fastest round on RCA Patron Saint.

Canter’s bid to win Badminton for a second successive year ended when she encountered problems at the lake complex with Izilot DHI, but she remains firmly on course for Paris Olympics selection with her top ride Lordships Graffalo.

Further down the leaderboard, day one leader Bubby Upton, who underwent spinal surgery just nine months ago after a fall, lies 18th on Cola and 2006 world champion Zara Tindall is 21st aboard Class Affair.

Upton said: “My horse never fails to give me his absolute all. He is an absolute machine and he has proved it time and time again.

“The support and love I have felt over the last nine months has been unbelievably touching. The comments on my Instagram are enough to make me well up.”

Tindall added: “I am blowing a lot, but when you get it done it feels such an achievement. If you fought for it, it was there (today).

“My horse hates people, so galloping around in front of those crowds is another aspect, but it is because he’s quirky that he is good.”