The weather gods were unkind today, again sending wind and rain, which at least kept the playing field reasonably level for the second half of the field, as those who rode yesterday frequently had vile conditions to contend with. Also, whereas at many Three Day Events there is a definite advantage to going on the second day, with the judges often showing more generosity with their marks after watching over 40 tests the day before, that doesn’t seem to have happened this year at Badminton.
As on Thursday, the very windy conditions really unsettled some horses, and those riders who managed good tests were relieved and happy, with many horses throwing away the chance of a very good test due to tension. Oliver Townend summed up what a lot of riders were feeling when he said “You have no idea what it takes to get the horse that settled”. He said that he had only worked Armada for 1/2 hour before his test, because if he tries to do too much, the horse tells him where to go, but that he’d worked him a few more times already today, and the horse had been led out to graze too, basically doing lots to keep him happy.
By the Tea Break at 3.20pm on Friday, the top 4 from yesterday were still comfortably leading, only Peter Flarup on Calista E of Denmark in 5th (eventually 9th=), and Mary King with Imperial Cavalier in 7th (eventually 12th) pushing up there toward the top of the leaderboard.
All the excitement came in the very final session. Mark Todd conjured a very nice test from Leonidas to slip into a final 9th= place, and has 2 in the top 10, the only rider to accomplish that feat this year. Sara Algotsson-Ostholt had Reality39 going beautifully to slip into 5th equal.
Nicola Wilson’s stunning skewbald mare Beltane Queen, owned by Valerie and Ann Robson, held it all together for a score of 43.0 in 13th. She is only 10 and shows huge promise for the future. Radio Badminton commentators Carl Hester and Pammy Hutton were hugely complimentary about this combination, saying that a few tiny tweaks would have them scoring 8s (or more) for everything.
It was the third from last rider of the day, America’s Clark Montgomery, with Loughan Glen, who swept decisively into the lead. Although there were a couple of tiny glitches, including a serious loss of rhythm in the extended canter for 6,5,5, the plethora of 9s they scored (including 9,9,9 for the second movement, the difficult medium trot Z shape across the diagonal, and 9,9,9 for his riding) gave them an eventual mark of 33.3, putting them 2.7 penalties in front of Paul Tapner, in 2nd place on Kilronan. Clark said that the atmosphere really helps this horse, lifting him and putting him more in front of the leg… he rises to the occasion, making Clark’s job easier.
Fence 18b, the difficult skinny log on the tight turn at the bottom of the Swindon Designer Outlet Mound, which had so many riders scratching their heads, has been removed due to the amount of rain we have had. The mound on the approach is relatively new and the footing just can’t be guaranteed to stand up to that many horses trying to turn very sharply while going downhill. Giuseppe della Chiesa, the Course Designer, said that he is very happy with this decision, which was reached by all the Officials, and that although it had caused a lot of talk, none of the riders had made an objection to the fence. But Paul Tapner said at the Press Conference that it didn’t fit with the flow of the course, it was a starkly different test to those in the rest of the course, and that in his opinion the course is better with it taken out. Sir Mark Todd, however, has been quoted as saying “he is a little disappointed about the removal of 18b, he would have given it a go!”
Clark said that his horse might not make the time tomorrow, that would be his biggest challenge. In fact Loughan Glen, while he has a lot of 3* experience (including five top 3 placings), has not completed a 4* yet, having been eliminated at Rolex Kentucky in 2012.
Paul Tapner raised a laugh at the press conference by saying that he hoped it would rain more from now on, so that he could “keep ploughing through so my horse can make the time, because it doesn’t sound as if Clark’s is going to!” He obviously has huge confidence in Kilronan’s stamina.
The top three are all on Irish horses, although Francis Whittington said that he has no real idea of Easy Target’s breeding, having bought him out of a dealing yard.
It is to be hoped that they will all cope really well with the conditions out on course tomorrow. Although today’s windy weather and sunny spells have dried the course out a lot, the forecast is for heavy rain in the morning. If that falls, conditions underfoot could get very testing, and those who are scheduled to go early should have a real advantage. Tomorrow is definitely set to be an absolutely riveting competition. If you can’t get to Badminton, it is being televised on BBC red button. Don’t miss it!