Details of Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s new Badminton course has been revealed and it is all change ahead from previous years. Event Director Hugh Thomas stepped down as course designer last year after 25 years and for many spectators this will be the first course in memory not designed by Hugh.
At first glance of the course although several popular favourites return several are re-sited and others are notably absent. The traditional Mitsubishi picks up at the lake has gone although but several old favourites return giving the course an almost vintage feel.
The course runs in the opposite direction to last year and after the traditional opening fence in the arena and a few relatively simple but in no way small fences including a new open parallel of rails at 4 the first question arrives at 5 in the form of the Savills Escalator which will remind many of Giuseppe’s influential downhill skinnys at the 2007 Pratoni Europeans. The wide roll top followed by two downhill super skinnys will be a real accuracy test especially for the fresh sharp horses who may over jump the table then run on downhill.
6 and 7 a double of airy birch oxers will allow the riders to prepare then for the first water on the course which also sees the first long route alternative option. Giuseppe has made sure that the long routes really are long and will easily affect a combination’s time. The direct route at the water involves a separately numbered oxer and then an unrelated distance to a maximum drop in to the water over a solid sloping wooden pole fence before heading over a unique new addition an upturned boat which was sourced from a scrap yard before exiting the water over a jetty. The alternative route is very time consuming and offers a similar but slightly simpler question.
After exiting the water riders head to the new garden complex and the much loved giants table at 10. This is placed as a let up fence but at maximum width and off a curving turn it should not be dismissed too easily. Riders then gallop down to the shogun hollow which this year they will pass through in only the one direction. 11 is a traditional chase type fence placed before the hollow and 12 a choice of 2 large box oxers sit just after and could catch some combinations who find themselves too deep into the oxer.
13 sees the Outlander bank in a similar format to last year with the owl hole on top on a bounce distance but the inclusion of a skinny on a turning line quickly after coming down the bank will be likely to catch a few horses who don’t find enough time to evaluate the fence. 14 is the Gatehouse New pond. A fair amount of work has gone into making the pond usable including reshaping the sides and firming the base to ensure it is safe to be ridden through. The jumps themselves in and out are not overly technical for this first year using the pond so that it can be gauged how well the horses jump through. The pond also gives a fantastic view down an avenue of trees to Badminton house for spectators but won’t suit photographers as it jumps in the wrong direction.
There is no let up at this point for the combinations as they then move on to 15ab the Vicarage Vee which is back at its very big and imposing best. The take off and landing areas have been modernized but the fence is no less imposing. Not only must a rider be accurate and bold, the horse must be particularly brave. There is again a long alternative route here which which we would expect a notable number of riders to take, mostly those on more green horses at the level and any suffering earlier problems on the course. The questions follow on quickly with 16abc, the Mirage pond where riders face a one stride angled double of hedges in and a third hedge out of the pond. 17 finally offers a let up fence in the form of a log pile just like the ones seen on a large number of BE courses across the country, the difference being this one is 3m wide at its base and 2m at the top but should allow most horses to jump out of a good rhythm without an issue.
18abc the Swindon Designer Outlet Mound is another of the new combinations on the course and it poses a big question for riders. A large mound has been built where the direct option involves a large tree trunk at the top followed by two skinny logs on an ‘S’ bend first downhill then back up. Horses starting to tire at this point may struggle to make the second turn back to the third element. Again a longer alternative option is available with riders jumping a log as the first element in the opposite direction before turning back on themselves to jump elements b and c. A long gallop on to 19 the traditional Wadsworth barrels before returning to the new Garden complex, this time jumping 20ab the World Horse Welfare Garden Gates. Riders will have to gauge their horses well as a tired horse allowed to gallop on could easily leave a leg, but if brought back too much valuable time will be lost. There is also a possibility that riders could theoretically pass a horse closely that is en route to fence 10. Although timings will have been worked out to avoid this wherever possible, if a rider suffers issues on the course it is certainly a possibility and a distracted tired horse at 20ab would be far more dangerous than a distracted fit horse at fence 10.
Although the Mitsubishi pick ups are not being jumped back to back this year one does make an appearance at 21 towing a trailer to be jumped which is sited in the top corner of the lake. Riders then gallop on to ISH Studbook Huntsmans Close 22ab and 23, which sees a log pile followed by two large brush corners on a right curving line under the trees. The imposing corners and committed striding required could see a tired horse duck out at either corner.
Another long gallop and on to the HorseQuest Quarry where fences 24, 25 and 26 are sited. Stone walls have returned to form the first and last elements with an option of two houses for 25. The turning required at the quarry will take some time and sap away at the reserves of by now rather tired horses which could lead to a few horses running out of steam up the slope to fence 26 out of the quarry.
27 and 28 a double of Countryside hedges on a slight curving line offer a soft profile and are kind to the horses nearing the end of the course. Moving on to fence 29ab the Rolex presentation boxes, these shouldn’t cause issues but never say never especially this late in the course. Once 29 is cleared the combinations will return into the main arena to the Mitsubishi Finish fence 30 which is essentially unchanged from recent years and then on through the finish.
The course overall is an interesting combination of new and old. Giuseppe has created a new and exciting course whilst combining several familiar elements from recent and more historic years. There is no doubt it is going to be an exciting competition especially with the many twists and turns which will leave the optimum time out of the reach of most combinations, although I wouldn’t bet against Andrew Nicholson jumping early on clear and inside the time!
In just over three weeks we will find out how the course rides for real and what fences will prove most influential. If I had to put money on a particular fence now I would be torn between the Vicarage Vee which looks positively scary and the Mound at 18, although saying that I now expect neither to result in a single fault!
To view the course including a course preview course with Hugh and Giuseppe in addition to photos and an animated course walk visit the Badminton website.