When New Zealand needed him most, Mark Todd produced some of his old magic to catapult himself and his team into medal contention at the Olympic three-day equestrian event.
Capping an enthralling second day of dressage at historic Greenwich Park, the 56-year-old double Olympic champion proved why he was voted the event rider of the 20th century by delivering a brilliant four-star dressage test on his inexperienced mount Campino.
The crowd of about 15,000, who had braved the elements, cheered in rapturous applause as the master gave his Kiwi teammates renewed vigour after their hopes of success looked to be fading.
Todd's stunning dressage - he even scored a 10 for his final salute - equated to 39.1 penalty points and places him third of 74 riders after the 'horse ballet', though the top 14 riders are all within four points, or one showjumping rail, of the lead.
Todd is 0.6 points behind Italian Stefano Brecciaroli and only one point behind the leader, Japan's Yoshiaki Oiwa, who scored 38.1 on Noonday De Conde.
New Zealand also rocketed from seventh to fourth equal with Sweden in the teams standings (128.2 points) and sit just 1.2 points off third-placed Great Britain. Defending champions Germany (119.1) lead from Australia (122.1).
Dressage is generally New Zealand's weakest discipline and they'll be confident of making a charge in tomorrow's (NZT) cross-country and the final showjumping round on Wednesday.
Individually, Jock Paget (Clifton Promise) is the next best of the Kiwis in 17th while Andrew Nicholson, fuming after he fell victim of a controversial weather delay, is 21st on Nereo.
Caroline Powell, who is 43rd on Lenamore, and Jonelle Richards, who is 55th on Flintstar, are out of the equation so all hopes rest on Todd, Paget and Nicholson, given the best three scores count.
"Caroline's horse didn't go as well as we would've hoped and Andrew had the bother with the weather and the hold-up, so they were all saying 'come on, we need a good one', and I was happy I could deliver,'' a beaming Todd said.
"I was really relaxed, and (Campino) stayed relaxed, and it worked really well. I'd had a good few days here, the horse had worked really well, and I just kept saying to myself this is just another competition."
Another thunder storm loomed just as Todd, the last of the 74 riders, was set to go, but unlike his old mate Nicholson, luck was on his side.
"Just before I got on there was huge thunder clap and all the horses in the stables jumped, and I thought 'oh my God, I hope this passes before I get on', and it cleared just in time."
He is refusing to look too far ahead, and said the 5.7km cross-country course would be challenging.
"I think it's going to be hard to get inside the time (10 minutes and 3 seconds) around here, it's very twisty in the first half.
"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.
"Anything can happen. All the other riders were disappointed with their dressage apart from Jock so that will just make them hungrier to go hard and fast."
New Zealand coach Eric Duvander understandably wore a big smile after Todd's moment of magic got them back in the event.
"We have always had high hopes for this team and not all of the riders went on their maximum.
"Mark did, and Andrew rode a fantastic test. He (Nicholson) had a little struggle because he was held for 10 minutes and couldn't quite get the fire in the belly of the horse, but rode solidly.
"Every year we have gone from being down in the dressage and this is yet another step up."
He admitted he would have liked a fourth rider in the mix, as backup in case one of the leading three struck trouble in the final two days.
- © Fairfax NZ News