The scene is set for surely the most exciting Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials ever with the promise of an historic showdown between the two best riders in the world.

Last weekend in the USA, New Zealander Andrew Nicholson was at the very top of his game to win the 4-star Kentucky Three-Day Event. This means he can challenge his long-time British rival, William Fox-Pitt, for the Rolex Grand Slam, a bonus worth $350,000 to whichever of the pair can pull off victory at Badminton Horse Trials.

However, to bill Badminton this weekend (May 3-6) as a duel between just these two is far too simplistic; the event, which has a first prize of £65,000, is the most competitive it’s been for decades, with 14 of the 16 medallists at last year’s London Olympics entered and the contest is wide open.

Fox-Pitt philosophically predicts that ‘probably neither of us will win’ and cites the unassuming Michael Jung, the reigning Olympic, world and European champion from Germany who brings his best horse, La Biosthetique Sam, as the rider most likely to get in their way.

Jung, who is fulfilling a childhood ambition to ride at Badminton, will certainly be the bookie’s favourite, but his Olympic gold medal team mates Sandra Auffarth, Ingrid Klimke and Dirk Schrade all have the credentials to be the first Continental European to win Badminton since 1951.

Fox-Pitt’s British team mates, Mary King, Zara Phillips and Tina Cook, are all in with a good shout as well, rising stars such as Kiwi Jock Paget, Aussie Chris Burton and Ireland’s Aoife Clark are also expected to shine, and 57-year-old Mark Todd will be a big draw as he returns to defend his title.

The dressage phase takes place on Friday and Saturday, cross-country on Sunday and showjumping on Monday. Admission prices start at £15 plus £12 for carparking (www.badminton-horse.co.uk)

Country Life’s top tips for Badminton

1 Michael Jung/La Biosthetique Sam (Germany)
2 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (New Zealand)
3 William Fox-Pitt/Oslo (Great Britain)
4 Zara Phillips/High Kingdom (Great Britain)
5 Ingrid Klimke/Butts Abraxxas (Germany)
6 Sandra Auffarth/Opgun Louvo (Germany)  
7 Tina Cook/Miners Frolic (Great Britain)
8 Michael Jung/Leopin (Germany)
9 William Fox-Pitt/Parklane Hawk (Great Britain)
10 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (New Zealand)

3 Dark Horses
Mark Todd/Ravenstar (New Zealand)
Pippa Funnell/Redesigned (Great Britain)
Jock Paget/Clifton Promise (New Zealand)

On-site bookmaker Neil Astor will be sited by the scoreboard

Read William Fox-Pitt’s interview and discover the Duke of Beaufort’s garden in Country Life this week (May 1 issue)

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