HIGHWORTH-BASED rider Paul Tapner retained the overall lead in the Event Rider Masters series as Britain's Oliver Townend became the first dual winner of the series today after winning the fifth leg at The Blair Castle Equi-Trek International Horse Trials.

Riding Cillnabradden Evo, who Townend partnered to win the fourth leg at Gatcombe three weeks earlier, the pair were faultless in showjumping to head out on the cross-country in pole position, where they completed an impressive clear round, adding just 2.4 time penalties to win the penultimate ERM leg on a score of 45.2.

Young British rider Tom McEwen, on board Diesel, took second place on the podium on 56.1 with Gemma Tattersall, riding Santiago Bay, in third on 57.7.

Shropshire's Townend took over the ride on Cillnabradden Evo from Marlborough-based Andrew Nicholson after the New Zealand rider had a near career-ending fall from him at Gatcombe 2015.

Townend, who will try to win the overall ERM series, has him entered for the finale leg at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials on September 10-11.

The fifth leg of the ERM developed into a tough jumping competition with the leaderboard being shaken up dramatically after the showjumping and final cross-country phase.

The biggest casualty was the overnight dressage leader Bettina Hoy, of Germany, who has recentrly been based at OgBourne Maizey in recent weeks, and Seigneur Medicott who dropped to second place in the showjumping following two costly poles.

The pair then had an unfortunate run out toward the end of the cross-country putting them right out of contention for a podium finish.

McEwen, who was based with Sir Mark Todd at Badgerstown near Swindon before moving his base to Gatcombe, became the youngest rider to feature on the ERM podium after performing a foot perfect cross-country round on the thoroughbred Diesel.

Marlborough-based Jock Paget and nine year old Angus Blue lost their second place after a review by the Blair ground jury found the pair to have jumped the wrong side of a flag on the cross-country.

They were subsequently eliminated from the competition after completing the cross-country.

Tattersall meanwhile, has closed the gap on series leader Tapner, who is on 92 points after finishing in sixth place, riding Kilronan, the pair’s last competitive appearance together.

Tattersall lies in second with 90 points and Townend sits third with 74 and Marlborough-based New Zealander Jonelle Price on 69.

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 leaderboard 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.''