For the first time I attended as a bona fide journalist, reporting for the Swindon Advertiser, and saw all four days worth of action. All files reported and published – here’s my personal take on this year’s competition highlights.
Expect the unexpected
Coming into the competition, there was a bit of a question whether it might have been a two horse race between Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt, these two vying for the World number one spot. Foxy-P fresh from his Kentucky win made him the bookies favourite, with Sir Nicholson of Stickability just behind.
Day 1 saw an unexpected leader in 40-1 shot Paul Tapner (though I thought at the time that was a mighty generous price), just ahead of Francis Whittington and in third place Lucinda Fredericks. A bitterly disappointed William Fox-Pitt was lost for words over his test on Cool Mountain which saw him well down the table from where he wanted to be.
Day 2 of the dressage saw another shake-up, and American Clark Montgomery would lead going into the cross country phase after a breathtaking test. Again, some of the usual suspects notably absent from the top 3.
Cross country day – where to start. The wet and windy conditions made the test even tougher than expected and only 35 completed out of 77 starters, with 24 going clear. Nobody made the time. Here's what highest placed Brit Oliver Townend made of it:
Course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa said;
Thrills and spills all the way on the cross country, and at times we found ourselves for long periods with no one to watch on course after a number of consecutive riders fell or pulled up earlier on. It wasn’t just the first timers though – the course claimed a number of big scalps. Who would have thought on the same day you’d see William Fox-Pitt, Andrew Nicholson, Pippa Funnell, Mark Todd all unshipped?
Many retired and/or had refusals or run outs, and for me Huntsman’s Close seemed quite a pivotal point. Here we lost Francis Whittington (retired), Clark Montgomery retired both his rides here including Loughan Glen who was in the lead – nine were in fact retired or eliminated here, and a further four clocked up penalties. It’s about ¾ of the way round the course, (fences 22/23) following a jump through water and a long gallop up the hill which must have, combined, proved hard on the legs after everything they’d already tackled. The corners themselves - substantial.
preparation, but I do believe that some horses stay better than others just like within racing, and for some they simply didn’t cope with the test of the Badminton fences and the going. I have two TB's, one is a complete mud lark and the other gets totally stuck in it - horses for courses, pun intended.
I think the decision to remove the stone wall fence from the Quarry was absolutely the right one, and I’d have been surprised to see any make it past there if it had been left, given how much energy this would require late on. In my humble opinion, this decision and the omission of the ‘b’ element of logs at the mound saved the event; any more fallers / eliminations could have warranted criticism for being too difficult a test. Despite the number of incidents, fortunately there were no serious injuries which again could have made things a different story.
Here is a short video of clips I took, highlighting a few riders when it went well...
The showjumping on the final day was a tough, twisty course with lots of questions for weary legs resulting in poles flying.
As Oliver Townend said in the press conference afterwards;
The top two riders (Price and Tapner) both picked up 16 jumping penalties putting them out of contention, clearing the way for winner Sam Griffiths and runners up Oliver Townend and Harry Meade– all of whom found themselves in the top three for the first time. In fact after dressage, they’d been 25th, 34th, and 46th respectively.
Sam Griffiths had been largely under the radar, performing consistently well but not headline grabbing in all three phases. He’d previously competed here on a number of occasions, known best for his results with Happy Times who had earned third and fourth placings. But Paulank Brockagh? This mare finished 43rd here last year so not an obvious choice, but it had been her four-star debut and she had since jumped round Burghley. Her record shows time penalties are standard, but her cross country record is impeccable and she’s an out and out jumper. This competition panned out to suit her perfectly and her and Sam earned their day.
The latter provided our adversity story too; Meade, as everyone knows by now, had a horror fall last season leaving him with shattered elbows and was told at Christmas he may never ride again. And yet five months later here he is, with his best Badminton result in nine visits. I definitely didn’t well up and get all emosh when he finished his showjumping round, and anyone who says
otherwise is a liar ok?
So the overall picture? This competition was not be won or lost in the dressage arena, and the jumping phases proved far more influential than they have been in recent years. As a spectator and a reporter,
for me it had everything and I’m delighted to see Badminton back to its best, doing what we all know and love it for.