Mark Todd isn't game to think too far ahead and contemplate a third Olympic gold medal but many others were happy to do that for him after he produced a near faultless ride on Campino to lie third after the dressage phase of the three-day eventing this morning (NZT).
Todd and Campino were the final competitors to enter the Greenwich Park arena and it was a fitting conclusion to a dramatic couple of days. He incurred 39.10 penalty points and sits behind Yoshiaki Oiwa of Japan on 38.10 and Italy's Stefano Brecciaroli (38.50) but, crucially, is ahead of most of his main rivals heading into the cross country.
It was the sort of ride the New Zealand team desperately needed. The day started poorly when Caroline Powell's horse Lenamore fidgeted his way through his test to land 52.50 penalties (43rd) and got worse when world No 2 Andrew Nicholson earned a disappointing score of 45.20 (21st).
Nicholson was furious at eventing officials afterwards for calling a 10-minute weather delay because of thunderstorms in the area immediately before his ride. Delays in top-level competitions are virtually unheard of and, given preparations for a dressage ride are often planned out to the last second to ensure the horse is in the right condition and frame of mind, it was a devastating blow for a rider who was among the favourites for individual gold.
"There should have been no hold, no hold at all,'' he said. "I've been in the rain, I've been in the lightning, I've been in the thunder and nobody held anything then.
"I thought Nereo was very good. I was just disgusted with the organisation.''
Nicholson will become crucial in the team's event along with Jonathan Paget, whose 44.10 points left him in 17th overall, and it will be hoped New Zealand's top three riders can go clear in the cross country to put them in medal contention.
It didn't look all that promising before Todd's ride but his score elevated New Zealand from eighth to fourth equal.
Remarkably, Campino was at two-star level - the Olympics is a four star competition -just 12 months ago but Todd has put considerable work into the youngster since and it showed.
"He's a horse that's very, very talented,'' said Todd, who was named by the international eventing federation as their rider of the 20th Century. "I've always thought a lot of him. He's a horse who has won all the way through his career. I'm chuffed with him, but there are two more days of competition.
"I was really relaxed, and he stayed relaxed, and it worked really well. He's come a long way... I've come a long way.''
The cross country course isn't as difficult as most four-star events, largely because the quality of rider at the bottom end is poor and organisers don't want to see horses and riders get hurt, but time could be a factor.
Both Oiwa and Brecciaroli are good riders but aren't in the quality of Todd who will benefit from being last on the course and will know by then how to pace himself and what areas are tricky.
But only four points (one dropped rail in show jumping) separate the top 14 riders meaning Todd can't afford to make mistakes.
"I think it's going to be hard to get [inside] the time around here,'' he said. "It's very twisty in the first half. If there's any petrol left, you can certainly make up time after you've jumped down the steep bank to the skinny fence.
"I wouldn't say it's his ideal track because he's a big long striding horse and he gets a little bit strong, but we'll be giving it everything we've got.''
When it comes to Mark Todd, that means a lot.
- APNZBy Michael Brown Email Michael