The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is one of Britain’s greatest sporting traditions. Kate Green provides a preview.
This year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials will have added spice with the news that Britain’s Oliver Townend has won the Kentucky Horse Trials, a victory that puts him in line for the elusive Rolex Grand Slam: a $350,000 bonus to the rider who can win Badminton, Burghley and the USA’s premier event consecutively in the same 12 months.
Oliver, 35, won Burghley 2017 on the lovely grey Irish sport horse Ballaghmor Class, one of his two rides at Badminton – the other being Cooley SRS – and will arrive at Badminton on a wave of confidence, albeit knowing understanding at first hand how elusive this feat is.
Only two riders have won the Grand Slam before, and both are entered at Badminton: Britain’s Pippa Funnell, the first to achieve it, in 2003, and Germany’s double Olympic champion Michael Jung.
Pippa, 49, a triple Badminton winner, rides Billy Beware this time, sixth in 2014 but subsequently on the sidelines with injury, and Michi has his wonderful old campaigner La Biosthetique Sam, now 18, the horse on which he clinched the Grand Slam at Badminton in 2016.
Only four other riders have been in line for this huge prize before: Andrew Hoy, Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt and Oliver himself, who won Badminton and Burghley in 2009 but came unstuck with a crashing fall at Kentucky in 2010.
William Fox-Pitt is another great story: a former world number one, brilliant horseman and the Badminton winner in 2015, he suffered serious head injuries in a fall later that year. This is his first reappearance at four-star level since the accident; he rides Fernhill Pimms, 10th at Burghley in 2015.
New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, the defending champion, is another fascinating story; he also suffered a bad fall in 2015 and broke his neck, but last year he finally won Badminton after 33 years of trying, on Nereo. Like Michael Jung’s Sam, the horse is now 18 and is Andrew’s sole ride at Badminton this time.
It has been 13 years since a British woman won Badminton – Pippa Funnell – and many would have loved to see her good friend Tina Cook on the podium this year.
Sadly, injuries forced Tina to withdraw at the start of the week. It’s yet another blow for a rider who first competed here in 1993; she has been a stalwart of the British team ever since, winning Olympic medals and the European title in 2009, but has never finished in the top three at Badminton.
Other lady riders in the frame include Tina’s European team mate Ros Canter, who was fifth on Allstar B and best British rider last year, Gemma Tattersall (Palmera and Arctic Soul), Izzy Taylor (Perfect Stranger), Sarah Bullimore (Reve de Rouet) and the Country Life Frontispiece this week, Piggy French (Vanir Kamira).
The most successful husband-and-wife duo in the sport currently are Jonelle and Tim Price from New Zealand, both seeking a first Badminton victory; their compatriot, the charismatic Sir Mark Todd has won it four times and is, at 62, the veteran of the field.
Wet weather has ruined many people’s Badminton preparations, but Jonty Evans, bidding to be the first Irish rider since 1965 to win, will be more confident than most, having won the recent big class at Belton on Cooley Rourke’s Drift, their first success since a successful crowdfunding appeal secured their partnership.
However, for my money, Tom McEwan who, at 26 wasn’t born when Sir Mark won his first Badminton in 1980, may be the best mounted rider in the field: he has two chances, on Toledo de Kerser, a brilliant French-bred jumper, fourth at Burghley last year, and the elegant grey Strike Smartly.
Badminton is the competition all event riders dream of winning, but whose name will be etched on the trophy in 2018?
The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, Gloucestershire, is on May 3-6 (shops are also open on May 2, during the Mitsubishi Cup for novice riders). Dressage is on Thursday and Friday, cross-country Saturday and the showjumping finale on Sunday. Admission (cash only) from £16 plus £12 car parking (01454 218272; www.badminton-horse.co.uk)
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