Christopher Burton (AUS) further staked his claim on a first Land Rover Burghley title today with a blistering round across the country on Nobilis 18, which leaves him a staggering 11 penalties ahead of his nearest rivals.

Experience told on a day when an enormous, energy-sapping course took its toll and the rain fell almost relentlessly, and there were just 28 clear rounds from 68 starters – none of which finished inside the 11min 11sec optimum time. But Christopher and Nobilis, who is owned by Sue Lawson and Carolyn Townsend, showed their class with the second-fastest round of the day to add 3.2 time penalties to their dressage score of 30.2.

“I was nervous today and watching the early riders go certainly didn’t make me feel any better,” he confessed. “So I went back to my truck and and curled up for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to get on.”

The Rio team member took on Nobilis 18, an 11-year-old Hanoverian with plenty of scope, blood and engine, three years ago.

“He originally came from [German Olympian] Dirk Schrade,” explained Christopher. “When I went to try him I asked Dirk how much blood he had in him and he told me he had more than anything I’d ever sat on before.”

The current leaderboard is dominated by Antipodeans with no less than seven of the top 10 hailing from the southern hemisphere.

New Zealander Tim Price once again demonstrated his superior cross-country skills to pilot Ringwood Sky Boy home and clear late on in the day in deteriorating ground conditions with just six time penalties.

“It was unfortunate that a lot of the top riders came in the second half of the day, so we never really got a true picture of how the course was riding until later on,” he pointed out. “I was very pleased with Sky Boy; I know him inside out, he grew a leg when he needed to and freshened up towards the end of the course.”

Burghley regular Andrew Nicholson may have left himself too much to do tomorrow to secure a sixth Land Rover title, but he was nevertheless delighted with the evergreen Nereo and his round that left him with 12 time penalties and in third spot overnight.

“I didn’t get time faults because of the weather or the ground; I got them because I didn’t go fast enough,” grinned the New Zealander, whose future in the sport was seriously in question 12 months ago after he suffered a broken neck in a fall at Gatcombe last August. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Nereo; he’s a big, strong horse who has to work hard up and down these hills, but it’s like he can read the numbers on the fences,” continued Andrew. “At the Dairy Farm [fence 14] I wasn’t exactly on the line I wanted, but he spotted the corner [the third element at c] and took me straight to it.”

Jonelle Price continued the domination from Down Under, posting the fastest time of the day with Classic Moet for just 1.6 time penalties – four seconds over the optimum time of 11min11sec – despite taking an unplanned long route at the third element of the Dairy Farm and getting tangled up in a decorative basket of potatoes.

“I was cross with myself about that,” she admitted. “I knew I’d left myself with a lot to do and had time to make up, but she’s a tough, fast mare and just keeps galloping and trying for me.”

Germany’s Bettina Hoy, second after the dressage on Designer 10, suffered a few sticky moments on the way round, but their 19.2 time penalties was still good enough for fifth place overnight.

“I was intimidated by the course and rode a bit backwards at the beginning,” she confessed. “But then I gave myself a talking to and was more positive towards the end. I’m thrilled with my horse; what a trier he is.”

The highest-placed British rider is Oliver Townend, who piloted two horses around clear. He retired his best-placed ride after dressage, MHS King Joules, after a run-out at the Discovery Valley [fence 24c], but Samuel Thomas II finished with time penalties in single figures (9.6) to slot into 10th place.

Tina Cook rode yet another masterful clear round Burghley with Star Witness and lies 12th overnight, just ahead of Sarah Cohen (Treason) and Sarah Bullimore (Reve Du Rouet).

For every heartening performance there was also a hard luck story. Australia’s Sam Griffiths, who was vying for a seventh Burghley completion with the brilliant veteran Happy Times, suffered the misfortune of a broken stirrup early on in the course, which forced him to pull up near winners’ avenue.

Three horses in close succession fell in the Trout Hatchery after landing over the large log (fence 21a), including Pippa Funnell and Second Supreme, who had been going brilliantly until then.

Course-designer Captain Mark Phillips said: “Overall I was disappointed by the number falls, although in some instances the riders weren’t there [in balance] for their horses when they landed as they’d been pitched forward. It was harder work for them than I had anticipated and the rain didn’t help.”

Tomorrow’s final horse inspection will take place at 9am in the main arena, while the showjumping begins at 10.30am for the lower placed riders and continues at 2.25pm with the top 24.