BELTON Park was the destination for eventing’s elite last weekend, with a strong challenge from the Wiltshire contingent, and the event lived up to its reputation for meaty tracks and lots of questions, writes Nikki Strong.

Highworth’s Paul Tapner continued his rich vein of form with Kilronan coming fifth in the three-star. A 37 dressage put the pair well in contention, adding just one pole showjumping and a few time faults after three phases. You would expect Tapner to be buoyant about Badminton following such smooth preparation.

Laura Collett achieved a typically competitive dressage of 31 with top horse Rayef to lie second, but the Membury-based starlet described him as a “monkey” in the showjumping after accruing 20 penalties plus time.

This effectively scuppered their chances, but they were clear across country – their confidence seemingly not dented after their recent fall at Weston.

Collett was unlucky with Noble Bestman, who recorded a dressage personal best only to add 20 penalties jumping. Her less experienced but very talented mare Allora 3 went double clear making it two from two at this level, their dressage not strong enough for a place but improved from her last outing at Fontainebleu. Collett remained in the ribbons with Controe, coming second with a cool double clear in their Novice section.

Collett said: “Belton was a good sharpen up before Badminton. Rayef was brilliant cross-country but very spooky in the showjumping, Belton arena is unlike any of the others as spectators and shops are very close. Noble Bestman was fantastic, just too over enthusiastic jumping into the water - but we’ve learnt from that.

“I was particularly pleased with Allora. My aim will be Bramham this year and all being well Badminton next year.”

Sir Mark Todd led the three-star with NZB Regent Lad after dressage on 29.4, but for the third consecutive outing his horse picked up time and jumping faults cross country to drop them down through the ranks.

Leonidas II was never a threat after a high dressage, but Todd enjoyed success with new ride Ravenstar, whom he pilots at Badminton. No jumping faults and a sub-30 dressage earned them second place in the Advanced, and Major Milestone also finished 18th.

Fellow Kiwi Andrew Nicholson was fairly well down the placings in the three-star with Sintra BK, but had all three Badminton rides competing in the Advanced. Mr Cruise Control came seventh thanks to a double clear, and the lovely Avebury earned a super dressage of 28.6 but incurred jumping penalties across country.

Nereo finished best of all, coming third in their section even with two down showjumping.