One of Britain’s greatest sporting occasions takes place this weekend, the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. Kate Green assesses the field

Kate Green previews Badminton Horse Trials 2016

Olympic fever will grip Gloucestershire this weekend as some of the world’s best riders descend on the world’s oldest, richest and most famous horse trials in the hope of catching the eye of their team selectors before the Games in Rio this summer.

Badminton was started by the Duke of Beaufort in 1949 as an Olympic trial for British riders, following the mess they made of the 1948 London Games, and it has been a significant selection trial for all international riders ever since.

This year’s field spans 14 nationalities, from as far afield as Canada and Brazil and including an old Etonian representing China (Alex Hua Tian) and a Danish amateur, Hanna Wind Ramsgaard, who works full time for a renewable energy company.

Ages range from the evergreen Frenchman Jean Teulere, 62, and the British-based New Zealander Sir Mark Todd, 60 to 20-year-old Emily King, whose mother, Mary, won in 1992 and 2000.
Last year’s winner, William Fox-Pitt, is without a ride this time and the home side’s best chances this year lie with experienced competitors Nicola Wilson and Tina Cook and up-and-coming stars Izzy Taylor, Laura Collett and Gemma Tattersall.

But the question uppermost in most minds is whether anyone can stop Michael Jung, the brilliant rider from Germany who is rewriting the record books with a string of medal successes and four-star victories. The reigning Olympic champion already has wins at Burghley and Kentucky under his belt and victory at Badminton would give him the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing (worth $350,000), the first rider to achieve this elusive hat-trick since Pippa Funnell in 2003.

Most of the cognoscenti agrees that the only riders who can stop him are an elite band of talented competitors from the southern hemisphere, all of whom are based in Britain, notably the world number two, supremely talented Australian rider Christopher Burton.

Kiwis Sir Mark Todd, a four-time winner, and Andrew Nicholson, both fixtures in Britain for 35 years, are two more – and Nicholson’s heroic return from injury will make him a crowd favourite – alongside the 2013 winner Jock Paget and eventing’s ‘first couple’, Tim and Jonelle Price, who live near Marlborough.

The action starts at 9am when Oliver Townend is first into the dressage arena on Thursday morning (May 5). Weekend action will be on BBC Red Button. Admission costs start from £15 plus car parking.

www.badminton-horse.co.uk