Well, this morning’s post was prophetic. That XC course took NO prisoners.
There were problems everywhere, with pretty much only the first and last few fences causing no problems. The Mirage Pond hedges were very tricky, hugely angled on a very committed distance, and caused enormous jumps from many of those who jumped them well, which must have felt like riding a rollercoaster. I wonder if any riders have residual whiplash?
Huntsman’s Close really was probably one of the toughest 4* combinations we’ve ever seen. Part C was an absolutely gargantuan question if they took the direct route (which very few did successfully) and very very difficult if they went the long route. There seemed to be only one good line of approach to it, and if they were off that, many horses misread the question and jumped to the right onto the widest part, diving over the back flag, causing fence judge confusions that persisted for hours.
There were only 35 finishers, less than 1/2 the field, and only 24 clear jumping rounds, but at the Press Conference, Course Designer Giuseppe della Chiesa did not show any regret at the difficulty of the test he had set.
As a spectator, in the thick of the atmosphere here, it was the most exciting day of XC I’ve ever seen. There were faults spread everywhere. The frangible pins saved quite a few horses from falling, especially at the big airy parallels which were fairly prevalent. There were some horse falls, including two at the log on top of the Swindon Designer Outlet mound, but all horses got up immediately and looked fine. No rider injuries as far as we know, and the only horse which looked injured, Lucinda Fredericks’ Flying Finish, who she pulled up immediately when he went dead lame behind after jumping Fence 5 well, is apparently fine, it seems it was one of those ‘instant ouchy’ moments which passes quickly, thank goodness.
Tim Price climbed up from 41= after the dressage, to 2nd, with the fastest time of the day, 11.6 time penalties. I don’t think that sort of rise has been seen for decades at this level, probably since Blyth Tait pulled up from bottom after the dressage to a medal position at the Olympics on Messiah. Paul Tapner is the only one of yesterday’s top 10 to still be up there. That’s pretty unbelievable.
Harry Meade was back to his supremely classy best and rose from 46= to 8th.
Oliver Townend lies best of the Brits in 4th position on Armada, having rising 30 places. He was one of the very few to successfully do the direct route at Huntsman’s. When was the last time a XC fence was that influential?
Francis Whittington was having an absolute peach of a round on Easy Target but the horse was visibly tiring, and although he was clear when he jumped into Huntsman’s over part A, he got no reaction to an aid and pulled up immediately. That close to home, after such a great dressage score, that is the mark of a true horseman who puts his horse first and doesn’t let ever adrenalin cloud his judgement.
He said in a Radio Badminton interview that there will be other events. His selfless decision, and his explanatory tweet afterwards, should earn him a legion of loyal fans.
Overnight dressage leader Clark Montgomery got as far as Huntsman’s on his first horse, Universe, before he had a stop and Retired. He set out on leader Loughan Glen, but was held for a long time while a refrangible pin was replaced, and again Huntsman’s was his nemesis, even though he took the long route. A tough day.
Riders of the calibre of Mark Todd, William Fox-Pitt and Andrew Nicholson all ended up on the floor at fences which caused very little trouble to any other riders. Has that ever happened?! Mary King and the very experienced Imperial Cavalier, who looked fantastic early on, saw the wheels come off, getting stuck on top of the Owl Hole fence on the Outlander Bank, Mary somehow staying on, and pushing him until he climbed off it, then jumping the Vicarage Vee fences in fine style, but the Mirage Pond hedges were A Fence Too Far for him after that, and he stopped most uncharacteristically.
But the course also rewarded many. Leonidas II looked decidedly green at one point, but Sir Mark Todd’s absolute mastery boosted his confidence and he finished clear and with his ears pricked. Nicola Wilson guided the inexperienced Beltane Queen around and the mare answered every question, giving those who were worried about Nicola’s horsepower now, faith that she has found another very worthy successor to Opposition Buzz. They were lucky to get away with a huge low-flying blunder at the Vicarage Vee, but it’s a mark of the mare’s quality and confidence that she jumped the next fence as if she’d never had a problem, not spooked in the slightest.
At 8pm here at Badminton, the XC Results page still looked like this. So, about 2 hours after the last horse went xc (late due to hold-ups) the scoreboard is still not finalised. They are appealing for spectators’ footage of certain combinations at certain fences. Unprecedented.
Nobody got anywhere near the time, even those with horses with previously bottomless stamina apparently having that dreaded ‘not much left in the tank’ feeling for the first time ever (Paul Tapner and Kilronan, and Oliver Townend with Armada).
Many who were having fabulous rounds were left rueing one silly error that was hugely costly. Pippa Funnell, after a good round on Billy Beware, set out on Redesigned. The horse looks to have limitless scope, and was jumping like a buck, but he got a bit close to the second log at the Swindon Designer Outlet Mound, and hit it very hard, giving Pippa no chance of staying on.
Nereo and Andrew Nicholson were playing with the course, making it all look like an Intermediate, until they got a little close to the upright out of the New Pond, the horse left a leg, and Mr Stickability came dramatically unstuck. And William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk were cruising beautifully, with all the tricky stuff behind them, when the horse caught a toe across the top of the first of the big scooped Countryside Hedges, and crumpled completely on landing. Neither of those fences caused any other rider a single problem. Jaws were hitting the floor all over the world, I bet!
So, a phenomenal day of XC around a true Biggest 4* In The World course, made more difficult by testing weather and holding, at times slippery, ground conditions. All to play for tomorrow, and it’ll be interesting to see how tired horse trot up, and jump. I hope the SJ won’t be enormous if the horses are tired and the ground is holding. Whatever happens, it’ll be another fascinating day of competition, and a supremely worthy winner.