LAURA Collett realised a childhood dream as she won Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, after a superb performance on Karen Bartlett and Keith Scott’s ‘London 52’. Laura’s finishing score of 21.4 – she added a mere 0.4 of a show jumping time penalty to her dressage mark – is a record completion score for Badminton.
Runner-up Ros Canter, the only rider to finish on her dressage score, showed she has another world champion in the making with the 10-year-old ‘Lordships Graffalo’, while Oliver Townend cemented his world number one position with third and fifth places on ‘Swallow Springs’ and ‘Ballaghmor Class’ respectively, his two greys hitting a fence apiece.
It was the first British one-two-three since Pippa Funnell led William Fox-Pitt and Leslie Law 20 years ago in 2002, and Laura Collett revealed that Pippa’s win on ‘Supreme Rock’ had been her childhood inspiration.
“I was going round the cross-country on my aunt’s shoulders and I wanted to be Pippa Funnell winning Badminton,” Laura said.
When Laura entered the show jumping arena, she had the luxury of a fence in hand over Ros, but the pressure was huge.
“That horse is amazing,” she said of her Tokyo Olympic gold medallist. “He jumped his socks off. I couldn’t see a distance anywhere, but he just got higher and higher.”
Ros was full of praise for her new superstar, who was contesting his first five-star: “’Walter’s’ eyes were on stalks when we arrived, but he enjoyed every part of it – especially the prize giving. He will have learnt so much in the last few days.”
Piggy March and the gallant 17-year-old mare ‘Vanir Kamira’, the 2019 Badminton winners who set the early standard on the cross-country, finished an honourable fourth with just one pole down.
“I think that’s the best ‘Tilly’ has ever jumped. She left her heart out on the cross-country course yesterday, so I was a bit worried today, but shouldn’t have been,” Piggy said.
David Doel, who lives just 20 minutes down the road from Badminton, had a dream debut, finishing in sixth place on ‘Galileo Nieuwmoed’ with a double clear, and Kitty King, a member of last year’s winning European championships team, was seventh on ‘Vendredi Biats’.
Irishman Austin O’Connor interrupted British domination with eighth place on the spectacular ‘Colorado Blue’, and American first-timer Tamra Smith was ninth on ‘Mai Baum’. Britain’s Richard Jones and ‘Alfies Clover’ rounded up the top 10.
After a gap of three years, support for the event was huge: 180,000 visitors attended over the four days and the many tradestands did a roaring trade, delighted to be back.
“It was everything I could have wished for,” said Event Director Jane Tuckwell. “Lots of happy people, fantastic result, wonderful sponsors in our presenting partner Mars Equestrian and our official partner Lifesource BP. It’s a dream come true at last. Bring on 2023.”
BACK AT BADMINTON
A total of 83 horses from 12 nations started at Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, with the first competitive combination into the dressage arena at 9.30am last Thursday.
The excitement was palpable as riders, owners, spectators and officials returned to the historic venue for the first time since 2019 to watch horses being trotted up in front of Badminton House at the first horse inspection on Wednesday. All horses passed the trot-up, but Kristina Cook withdrew ‘Billy The Red’ beforehand.
A high-class field, competing for a £100,000 first prize and the biggest prize fund in five-star eventing this year, included Britain’s three Olympic gold medallists from Tokyo, Tom McEwen, Oliver Townend and Laura Collett, plus the reigning world champion, Rosalind Canter, and the reigning European champion, Nicola Wilson.
Badminton, which is the world’s oldest horse trials, founded in 1949, represents the pinnacle of the sport and will have been a long-held ambition for the 30-plus first-timers, including Hazel Shannon, a three-time winner of the Australian five-star at Adelaide and Mollie Summerland, another five-star winner, at Luhmuhlen, Germany, last year.
The team at Badminton worked assiduously on the cross-country going for Saturday and course-designer Eric Winter reported: “We’ve been watering for a month and were lucky with the rain on Sunday. Mark Lucey, who is ground-testing at a wide range of events and in racing, has been here every four days recently and has pronounced it perfect.”
Olympic gold medallists Tom McEwen and ‘Toledo de Kerser’, took an early lead at the beginning of Thursday’s dressage phase at Badminton and remained unchallenged at the end of the day after a superb performance for the excellent score of 23.4.
“It’s a shame he didn’t do that test in Tokyo,” quipped Tom, who also won the Olympic individual silver medal there.
“He was phenomenal, the half passes were lovely, he was smooth in his body and kept up a great rhythm, and it was pretty well mistake-free. It’s lovely to be back here at Badminton,” he added.
Tom held a 1.4-penalty lead over Kitty King and the smart grey ‘Vendredi Biats’, who scored 24.8.
Just 0.1 of a penalty behind Kitty, and completing a British one-two-three, were 2021 Luhmuhlen five-star winners Mollie Summerland, 24, and ‘Charly Van Ter Heiden’, who unfortunately picked up an injury after his big win.
American first-timer Tamra Smith and ‘Mai Baum’, was in fourth place, ahead of defending champions Piggy March and ‘Vanir Kamira’, fifth, and 2009 winner Oliver Townend with new ride ‘Swallow Springs’, who finished fifth with New Zealander Andrew Nicholson in 2019.
Representatives of the presenting sponsor, Mars Equestrian, pronounced themselves delighted with the first day. Geoffrey Galant, Vice President, said: “This is the perfect fit for us. It’s great to see such an international field, and to see the home audience cheering loudly for all of them. I promise we are in it for the long haul.”
After day two, Olympic gold medallists Laura Collett and ‘London 52’ headed the dressage leaderboard after a superb performance that earned a score of 21, which put them in pole position going into the cross-country day.
Scoring was tight at the top and it was clear that a mere handful of cross-country time penalties over Eric Winter’s beautifully built yet challenging cross-country course could change everything on Saturday!
Laura was 2.4 penalties ahead of her team mate, Tom McEwen, riding the brilliant jumper ‘Toledo de Kerser’, who was also the individual silver medallist in Tokyo.
Oliver Townend, the third member of the triumphant Olympic trio, was in close contention a mere couple of penalties behind. The world number one was in equal sixth place on new ride ‘Swallow Springs’ and equal eighth on ‘Ballaghmor Class’, the 2019 runner-up. As the winner of Kentucky last year, Oliver’s goal of the Rolex Grand Slam (of Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley) was very much alive.
Great Britain are the reigning Olympic, world and European champions and, as expected, home riders dominated the top 10.
Kitty King and ‘Vendredi Biats’, members of the European championship gold medal team, were third on 24.8, just fractionally ahead of 24-year-old Mollie Summerland and ‘Charly van der Heiden’, who were best of the 30-plus first-timers.
US rider Tamra Smith (‘Mai Baum’) interrupted British domination in fifth place, making a great debut at her first Badminton, on a score of 25.3.
Defending champions Piggy March and the mare ‘Vanir Kamira’ were in equal sixth place with Oliver (‘Swallow Springs’) on 25.7, and Oliver also shared eighth place with Kiwi first-timer Amanda Pottinger (‘Just Kidding’) on 25.9.
Laura was awarded three 10s during her test, for extended trot, canter and halt.
“This is what you dream of,” she said emotionally. “He is just so nice to ride.”
‘London 52’, a German-bred 13-year-old by ‘Landos’, won Pau five-star in 2020 and has numerous good results at four-star level, but this is his first visit to Badminton.
“Tomorrow is a whole different ballgame,” said Laura of the cross-country. “It’s very well-built, but there is a lot to do out there.”
Ros Canter, the reigning world champion, was in 10th and 12th places on ‘Lordships Graffalo’ and ‘Allstar B’.
“I’m absolutely over the moon,” she said. “’Graffalo’ is only rising 10, so he’s a very green horse. He’s come up through the levels during covid, so has seen very little of this kind of atmosphere before. I was busy trying to quieten everyone down, but he didn’t bat an eyelid – I don’t know why I bothered. He’s such a professional and just takes everything in his stride.”
Of the imposing cross-country challenge, Ros said: “The more I walk the course, the tougher I think it is, the cleverer I think Eric has been, and the more complicated I think it is. You start thinking about your minute markers and the knock-on effect of all those big jumps and the twists. I don’t think it will be easy tomorrow, but I hope if the horses are confident they will be rewarded.”
Great to be back
Laura Collett and ‘London 52’ produced an outstanding cross-country performance at Badminton to retain their dressage lead and go into Sunday’s show jumping finale with a fence in hand.
Her Olympic team mate Oliver Townend was in second and third places on ‘Swallow Springs’ and ‘Ballaghmor Class’. Ros Canter also had two horses in the mix and was in fourth and sixth on ‘Lordships Graffalo’ and her world champion, ‘Allstar B’.
Piggy March, the 2019 winner, provided a welcome and confidence-giving masterclass in cross-country riding early in the day and was in fifth place. The price of one show jumping rail covers places second to sixth.
New Zealand’s Jonelle Price conjured a vintage round from the 2018 winner, ‘Classic Moet’, the mare belying her 19 years. They rose 20 places to seventh, with one of only six rounds inside the optimum time of 11 minutes 44 seconds.
Kitty King was eighth with her European team gold medallist ‘Vendredi Biats’, collecting 11.8 time penalties, and William Fox-Pitt was in classic form, riding two clear rounds on ‘Little Fire’, ninth, and ‘Oratorio’, 10th.
Laura finished 11 seconds inside the time, having been held on course.
“It was so near and yet so far, but he came back onto the bridle. The feeling of coming into the arena at the end was quite something. We’ve missed Badminton and we’ve missed the crowds, and it’s great to be back,” said Laura.
“This horse owes me nothing. He’s given me my first five-star win [at Pau in 2020] and an Olympic gold medal, and this was the biggest, most intense course he has ever seen.”
There were 50 clear rounds from the 80 cross-country starters, many of them first-timers, but the day got off to a dramatic start, which shook up the leaderboard. Tom McEwen and ‘Toledo de Kerser’, the dressage runners-up, were going brilliantly when they tipped over the second element of the bounce at fence 24. Nicola Wilson was taken to hospital in Bristol for precautionary scans after a fall with ‘JL Dublin’ at fence 27.
Pippa Funnell (‘Billy Walk On’) and Mollie Summerland, fourth after dressage on ‘Charly Van Der Heiden’, retired after stops at fence 17.
Oliver Townend performed a heroic save worthy of Andrew Nicholson, ‘Swallow Springs’ former rider, when the grey took off early at the last element of the Quarry, fence 4. Oliver was initially eliminated at the end of his round, but then reinstated when the footage was examined.
“I kicked for one more stride, but then he picked up, which I didn’t expect!” said Oliver.
He revealed that ‘Ballaghmor Class’ was particularly lit up before his round and that a couple of stewards on hunt horses kindly rode around with him and to the start ‘as a comfort blanket’.
“He felt a bit cocky and keen at the start, but once he settled he was a pleasure to ride,” he said.
Oliver said Eric Winter’s influential track “felt like a five-star should feel. The class horses made it look easy and I felt the balance was right.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.