A cross country day of extremes. On a course with a longer than usual optimum time of 11.58 (which some riders thought had been wheeled generously), we had totally sublime rounds like Michael Jung’s with the living legend that is La Biosthetique Sam, Gemma Tattersall’s with the athletic and keen Arctic Soul (best of the Brits in 3rd place now), Oliver Townend as reluctant trailblazer on the evergreen Armada (8th overnight), and Izzy Taylor’s on the classy mare Allercombe Ellie (9th), where the riders rode truly attacking but also clear-headed, accurate rounds, and were rewarded with great clears inside the time to go forward on their dressage scores. These riders made a very tricky course look easy.
Eleven riders in total went clear inside the time but some had their heart-stopping moments, for instance Mark Todd on Leonidas II, who was slightly unseated when the horse ballooned the fence on top of the Normandy Bank (not helpful when there’s a huge drop on landing), and then had another minor moment when the horse skewed dramatically on exiting the influential Shogun Hollow, a semi-coffin of sharply angled upright hedges into and out of a sharp dip. Sir Toddy used all his experience and skill to get him home inside the time.
Zara Tindall proved that she and High Kingdom are back in style, although they had a near-miss at a let up fence, disagreeing on the stride, and then a horrible stumble on landing at the KBIS Vicarage Vee, when he landed slightly on the bank and was very lucky to stay on his feet, Zara displaying her typical awesome balance and stickability. I think she was riding a hole or two longer than she used to, which was good for my blood pressure! They didn’t make the time but only added 6 time penalties.
It was great to see Blyth Tait back to his brilliant best at Badminton, giving Bear Necessity V a peach of a ride for just 4.8 time.
The French had a great day, their flowing, zesty riding suiting this course to a T, with Jean Teulere, Astier Nicholas and Pascal Leroy all posting very classy fast clears. The Germans fired more warning shots, Andreas Ostholt now lying second with So Is Et, on 43.4, having added 5.2 time, and Bettina Hoy using everything she had to get Designer 10 home with exactly the same time penalties, for 13th place overnight. Of course NZ had its stars: Toddy, Jock Paget, Clarke Johnston and Jonelle Price all posting great rounds, and currently lying in 4th, 5th, 6th and 11th places. Tim Price was again desperately unlucky to be decanted while having a very classy round, that’s 2 weekends running now, hopefully his bad luck is finished for this season!
Francis Whittington rode a mature round on Hasty Imp, after their impressive dressage for 4th place, but incurred 13.6 time. Having seen this horse looking a teensy bit sticky early on at Belton CIC*** a few weeks ago, I don’t think Francis could have gone faster and been sure of keeping his confidence, around such a testing course. Excellent horsemanship. As was Oliver Townend’s, whose good round on Black Tie suddenly went awry when the horse ran out of petrol and enthusiasm at the Alexanders Silver Birch complex. He pulled up immediately, very sensibly. Izzy Taylor rode a peach of a round on Allercombe Ellie, for 9th place overnight, and Tina Cook was her usual consummate self xc for 14th with Star Witness. There were plenty of other stand-out rounds, such as Libby Head for the USA, and Sir Rockstar, 18 years old and looking 10 years younger, who weren’t fast but were very professional looking.
By contrast with these forward thinking (but impressively sane, which isn’t always easy once the adrenalin gets going!) riders, anyone thinking backwards, anyone trying for a nice careful clear, anyone hooking and looking, or having a big argument down to a fence, tended to pay a serious penalty. Kathryn Robinson, on the impressively scopey Let It Bee, would be one notable exception, her steady clear round showing that her eye was very firmly on Olympic selection for Canada. But Vittoria Pannizon on the usually phenomenal Borough Pennyz had a bizarre fall at the second wide white parallel at the Jack Wills Garden front of Badminton House. When she wanted the mare to wait, Pennyz threw her head up and didn’t give herself a chance to read the fence, making it over the front rail but somehow diving under the back rail and looking a bit stuck (but still upright) for a second, very nasty for poor Vittoria who looked as if she got smacked into the rail before coming off.
Multiple riders incurred problems at the KBIS Vicarage Vee including:
Boyd Martin (Cracker Jack), Dani Evans (Raphael II), Lucy Jackson (Bosun), Tim Price (Ringwood Sky Boy), Tom Crisp ( Coolys Luxury), Michael Owen ( Bradeley Law) & Dan Jocelyn ( Beaucatcher)
There may be a pattern here… the Vicarage Vee in its old, totally uncompromising format is back, with a V for Vengeance, and it took NO prisoners. The slightest deviation on take-off or in midair, and/or the slightest lack of commitment on the way in, and things went dramatically wrong very fast. The long route was surprisingly quick and plenty of riders who took it still made the time, so discretion was sometimes the better part of valour. But of course many rode it phenomenally well, which was an absolute treat to watch, Blyth Tait being one, and Emily King sailed it calmly and confidently, as if she rides that sort of fence every day of the week.
The open parallel in the Gatehouse New Pond jumped unexpectedly well, only one or two lacking the necessary conviction to it. It was on a good distance from the previous upright as long as riders rode forward. Some got there a bit long but it jumped fine if it was ridden with determination.
The Mirage Pond was surprisingly influential, and ended Alice Dunsdon’s dreams of completing all six 4* events on the same horse, at least for this year. Fernhill Present was not looking ‘at the races’ and completely threw in the towel here.
The penultimate fence, the Rolex Crossing was, again, bizarrely influential. History sone what repeated itself when rookie Emily King, after an utter peach of a round on the stunning Brookleigh, lying in 2nd place after dressage, slightly fluffed the 2 stride distance in the middle and Brookleigh, confused, didn’t take off at part B. Not quite a carbon copy of her mother’s unseating there a few years ago with Imperial Cavalier, but almost. Dreams, instantly in the dust, the 11 and a half previous minutes of brilliance suddenly worthless. But they both survived to fight another day, and their day will definitely come.
Jeanette Brakewell’s solid round on Lets Dance came to a shocking halt at the same fence, when the tiring horse fell, landing heavily on top of her and disn’t get up for a while. If she hasn’t broken anything it will be amazing. The horse looked stiff when he was led away, let’s hope both are okay.
The Shogun Hollow was also influential, causing plenty of problems, and Chris Burton and Nobilis 18, 5th overnight and flying, ended their competition here when the horse left a leg and gave Chris no chance at all to stay on.
The Swindon Designer Outlet Bank was very tricky but there was lots of excellent riding (and a few ‘very honest horse’ moments) so it wasn’t as influential as might have been expected.
The overriding lesson from Badminton this year was keep riding forward. This track rewarded flowing, determined riding, and severely punished anything else!
But the day belonged, again, to the phenomenon who is Michael Jung. As long as La Biosthetique Sam is sound and trots up tomorrow, only a fool would be against his chances of winning the Rolex Grand Slam, and the £240,000 bonus, since he has 9 penalties (over 2 fences) in hand. His current mastery of the sport is unprecedented, and we are very lucky to be eventing enthusiasts at a time when such a consummate, caring, modest horseman reigns absolutely supreme.
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