This time next week the trot up for Badminton will be hours away. With this in mind we take a look at the field and pick out a few combinations we feel are worth keeping an eye on as the competition progresses.
Starting with Badminton first timers:
Lydia Hannon – My Royal Touch
Lydia finished 3rd in the Blenheim CCI*** last year in a competitive field. They have previous 4* experience at Luhmuhlen although it wasn’t the best result on paper, but their 3* record is strong overall. On the whole their dressage appears to be high 40s and low 50s but if they can pull out their Blenheim form then they could fall into the top 20 with a good round. They won’t trouble the top ten but with a new chunky course who knows what could happen.
Becky could not live much closer to Badminton so its home stomping ground. Socks is not a traditional event horse but together they have had some strong results and they are solid over all three phases. They will not be troubling the leaders after dressage but they have an ability to keep pulling themselves up the placings. A strong showing at Burghley last year saw them finish in 17th after they made easy work of the cross country in tough conditions and though dressage will always be a tough phase for this combination they have it within them to have a top 25 placing.
Now to look at the Red Hot Contenders which have to include:
Ingrid Klimke – Horseware Hale Bob
Ingrid has had a quiet year starting with two CIC2* but her dressage scores of 30.9 and 30 with nothing to add to either score, stands out as a warning shot to all the other competitors turning up at Badminton that this pair are ready to perform. An unusual blip at Rio should not be discounted as we know this horse is normally an incredible cross country machine. Hale Bob has previous Badminton form coming 2nd in 2015 to Chilli Morning and William Fox-Pitt. For me they will take all the beating and I think a stronger shot than Michael Jung.
Astier Nicholas – Piaf de b’neville
It is not that worrying that Astier has had a light season on this horse because this plan clearly worked last year with their win at Chatsworth inside the notoriously tight cross country and then picking up that silver medal in Rio. Their dressage is good enough to have them among the leaders at Badminton but it is the jumping where they excel. When winning at Pau 4* this horse went double clear beating Michael Jung who had a pole. They have had one run at national level at Samur in France where they were eliminated but Astier confirmed afterwards that Piaf feels as good as ever so we wouldn’t read much into that result.
Mark Todd – Leonidas
This horse is ultra consistent and has one of the best records in eventing. Last year was slightly hit and miss with an uncharacteristic show jumping round at the CIC3* at Barbury where he seemed to spook coming into the combination which resulted in 31 faults including time, and a 20 on the cross country. Leo had a hit and miss round quite literally in Rio with his first round having 16 faults on the show jumping and losing medal shots before then coming out and jumping clear in his second round. This year Leo has had a strong start with a 2nd in a highly competitive Belton CIC3* which should bode well for Badminton. This horse deserves a big win as he has been the bridesmaid so often. Is this his year at 13 years old?
Chris Burton – Graf Liberty/ TS Jamaimo
You can never underestimate Chris Burton. TS Jamaimo has only run once HC in the Intermediate at Hambleden last weekend where he jumped a solid double clear. TS Jamaimo finished last year with an 11th at Pau 4* but was severely hampered by his unusual dressage score of 60 when he is normally in mid 40s. He is a strong contender and will be a fast horse cross country. Graf Liberty is interesting. He scored a 42 at Belton then picked up faults in the Sjing and cross country, he had an incredibly light season last year with only doing two events and was last at 4* back in 2015 where he was 4th at Luhmuhlen. To be honest there are a few question marks over both horses but they have a master of a rider on them so because of that cannot be discounted.
Nereo finished 2nd at Burghley last year and has run at national level this year which seems to be Andrew Nicholsons preference rather than doing any CIC***s in preparation. It looks an unsuspecting start to the year but I think we could see a big result from this horse. Will it be the year for Andrew to finally pick up his first Badminton win? It will be a tough field but this is a horse which is capable and at the very least they shoud fill a top 3 result. My only concern on this horse is that he is liable to have a pole in the show jumping. He was leading going into the showjumping in 2015 but 3 down saw him fall to 6th allowing Chilli Morning to take the Badminton win. Michael Jung – Sam
I don’t think I really have to say much about this combination. They are so strong in all phases and Michael rarely makes a mistake. Last year’s Badminton winners and they have previously been runners up when leading going into the showjumping. Back to back Olympic gold medallists. This is the best horse which has ever set foot on a cross country course. If Ingrid makes a mistake Michael will be there to capitalise. It will all come down to who does the better dressage test. The preparation by Michael has been the same as last year by running at Kreuth CIC2* and then retiring on the cross country having jumped 7/8th of the course. They scored a 31.6 at Kreuth. Ingrid just pipped them that day with her 30.9. A top 3 result almost guaranteed for the pair!
Jonty Evans – Cooley Rorkes Drift
This is a really lovely horse. I think they are really capable of a top 10 result. The horse is a phenomenal jumper and his dressage has been getting better and better. He is only 11 years old and yet finished 9th at Rio and has solid results at 3*. They have started the season well at Belton with an 11th in the CIC3* finishing on their dressage score which is a tough thing to do. This year might be a year too soon before we see the best of this combination but they are worth a mention because I still think they could pick up a good placing in top 10 and then move up to being a top 5 contender next year.
The Yankees are coming!
It is also worth noting that we see the strongest hand that the USA has sent for some time. Last year their big hopes flopped dismally while the little 15.1hh Sir Rockstar and Libby Head soared round Badminton. This year its girl power with Hannah Sue Burnett, Lauren Kieffer and Lynn Symansky bringing along their big guns.
Realistically I do not see Lynn Symansky being up there in the top 10 on the wonderful war horse Donner. Their dressage is pretty consistent in late 40s but realistically to hit the top 5 in a field of this calibre they need to be able to be in the 30s and very low 40s. Donner often has a pole in the showjumping and though they are well travelled in International 4* they are picking up places in the teens rather than being top 10.
Lauren Kieffer comes along double handed with Veronica and Landmarks Monte Carlo. Realistically its Veronica that we are most interested in. An experienced combination who can score in the low 40s and jump double clear. They have had top 10 results at 4* in Europe and in USA. They went to Rio and had an unfortunate fall on an uncharacteristic rider mistake but sometimes where the hardest lessons have been learnt brings out the biggest amounts of determination and tenacity in order to prove themselves. Lauren is a hungry competitor and I imagine that everything will have been done to prepare themselves for Badminton. Veronica has been kept ticking along this year recently finishing 4th in a CIC3*.
Landmarks Monte Carlo is her younger horse who at 11 is still learning the ropes at 4*. They had their debut at 4* at Kentucky last year where they had an average dressage of 50 followed by an unlucky 20 after looking great xc. I really like this horse but this year will be an experience year and I expect bigger things in the future.
Hannah Sue Burnett brings Harbour Pilot. This is a tricky combination to assess as they either do really well or under achieve. At 3* they are mega consistent. They were 5th at Blenheim last year and they have won a CIC3* this year. They score low 40s in the dressage but they will often pick up time on the cross country and have the odd blip. They are capable of a really good result and come on the back of some really solid results. They have the potential to be a top 5 finisher but this is the toughest competitive field they will have faced and I think Badminton has its own unique pressure which puts first timers at a disadvantage even if they have been to other 4* and I think we will see them with a top 10 chance.
A New Era for the British?
Last year was a disaster at the Olympics for the British. The plan to play it safe by having strong combinations at 3* did not work and even the dressage tests which had been looking strong were disappointing against the other nations apart. The most proven 4* horse at the Olympics in Chilli Morning was also the most successful in terms of results. We are now in a new Chris Bartle era and he has never been shy about encouraging good results at 4*.
We have a lot of British riders out to prove a point and some exciting horses that may have not been quite ready last year but are looking like strong contenders for this year.
Oliver Townend’s horses on paper are underwhelming. But they have Oliver on board. I think he could pick up a good result purely through his determination and skill as a rider but there are much other stronger contenders.Gemma Tattersall takes Arctic Soul a horse that looked phenomenal last year. It will be interesting to see how tough Eric Winter’s Badminton rides this year but my feeling is because the ground will be so good it will mean horses finish strongly and they will get away with more mistakes than if it was a wetter year and they were finishing tired. This if anything handicaps Arctic Soul slightly because this horse runs on any ground and is quick. His dressage is the weakest phase but he is capable of doing a good enough test to keep them in touch. He recently finished 8th in the very competitive CIC3* at Belton with a dressage of 47.9 and he scored a 44.6 last year at Badminton. I think it will be a close call between this horse and Ceylor Lan for who finishes top of the Brits. Top 5 is my prediction.
Kitty King brings Ceylor Lan to his first 4*. Kitty has run him fast across country this year rather than taking it steadily and he has a pretty impressive national and International record heading to Badminton. A 46 will have been a slightly disappointing dressage score in the CIC3* at Belton but he has scored a 32 at Chatsworth and a 33.6 at the Olympics. This horse potentially has it all and I think if they pull together what they are capable of they will be top of the Brits. My only query will be his stamina over 4* distance which is 2 minutes longer than Blenheim. Their Blenheim result was 2 years ago and they have mainly done CIC3* which is around 5-7 minutes and their Rio time was slow after the blip. Kitty always has her horses fit but it will be interesting to see if he will keep galloping and get close to the time.Tina Cook – Calvino/Billy the Red/Star Witness
Tina comes with some strong possibilities. I admire Tina so much as a rider because out of everyone she keeps producing superstar after superstar from what looks like very ordinary horses. Tina is rarely mentioned as world class rider because other people get mentioned first like Mark Todd and Pippa Funnell. Tina is lacking that big win at 4* and I think that is why she is often wrongly left out from the greats.
Horses like Ceylor Lan and Zagreb who I first saw as 5yos at BE100 level have always stood out but Star Witness is the most average looking horse, combine this with his physical issues of kissing spine which means he has to be so carefully managed and yet he picks up consistent top 10 results at 4*. He is not a winner, but he will be up there purely because his jumping is good (he only had one pole at Burghley when everyone else was playing demolition derby) and his cross country is quick. Billy the Red is the next big hope for Tina. He was 9th a Pau 4* last year and though his results so far this year have looked uninspiring, I think he is the better horse than Calvino. Combine that with his top class rider and they have the potential for a good finish – I think top 15.
Tom McEwen – Toledo de Kerser
Tom does not quite qualify under a fresh face but he is worth a mention. I do not think this year will be his year on this horse but I think the horse is a phenomenal and as a 10 year old will have his time in the future. He went to Pau 4* as a 9 year old and finished with a double clear. The horse is tricky and complicated but he really jumps. He also has the potential to do a really good test having scored a 36.6 last year at Blenheim CIC3*. Now the thing holding them back is cross country speed. They have gone round Bramham CCI3* with single time faults but they are usually in double digits. It is this that makes me reluctant to predict top 10 and instead place them in the top 15. The ground at Badminton is going to be good and so there will be more pressure on having a good time to be competitive than if the ground was soft. The one thing guaranteed is if they make it to day 3 they have a very strong chance of pulling themselves right up the leader board because this horse never looks close to touching a pole showjumping.