Badminton Horse Trials always draws in an enviably hot field of competitors, partly due to its enormous prestige, and partly due to its early-season slot in the calendar: unlike Burghley, it doesn’t suffer any scheduling conflicts with the year’s championships, and each year, it serves as a fantastic chance for riders to impress the selectors ahead of their summer and autumn campaigns. It commands, as a result, an enormous entry every year, with well over 100 competitors fighting for the 85 available slots on the line-up. As acceptance is decided by FEI ranking points, we see a calibre of horse and rider come forward that feels like a bit of a fantasy field — and few years have been quite as good as this one. We’ve got horses in this field that have won every five-star bar Maryland; the entire gold medal-winning British Olympic team; the two most recent winners of the competition; the reigning Burghley champions; the European Champions, and much, much more besides. You can read all about them in our jam-packed form guide and admittedly much more bite-sized At A Glance round-up — and then scroll on to find out who Team EN’s putting their money on this week.
Big Winner: It’s so hard to choose because this year we have SO MANY U.S. based pairs making the trip over. I think it’s time for the stars to align for Mai Baum and Tamie Smith. Watching them activate that frangible pin at Kentucky last year when they were so close to winning it was devastating, and that accompanied with traveling to the Olympics as a reserve pair, well there’s frankly no bigger motivator.
Top American: See above, but I’ve got to give a shout to Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. This will be their fourth five-star start, and so far they’ve not finished outside the top fifteen. They face a big field at Badminton, but Ariel will be fighting for a good finish.
Best Mare: I’d like to see Classic Moet finish as the best mare with Jonelle Price. This is obviously a fiercely competitive pair, but they don’t have the flash of some of the others in the first phase, but if the cross country has teeth, “Molly” will find herself moving toward the top.
Spoiler Alert: This will be a first five-star for the 11-year-old JL Dublin, but he’s already bested hugely competitive fields at the four-star level, including winning the European Championships last season with Nicola Wilson, so this is one that definitely has the pieces for a super weekend that could surprise some stalwarts.
Top Debutant: I’ll bet my odds on Tom Carlile and Zanzibar Villa Rose Z . Yes, that Tom Carlile. This is his first ever five-star, a factoid that very much caught me by surprise. I first took note of Tom when he was partnered with the incredible stallion Upsilon. Now he brings forward Zanzibar to make his debut, and although the French gelding doesn’t have a perfect cross country record, if they’re on they will be very competitive.
Big Winner: You could put a gun to my head and tell me you’d shoot if I didn’t pick my definitive winner, and I’d simply shed a single tear and quietly beg you to put me out of my misery. It’s impossible in this field, as there are arguments for so many. The easy and obvious choice is Tom McEwen and Toledo do Kerser, but I’d love to see Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet finally get the result they’ve been on the cusp of for so long. I’d have put my money on the dream coming true for her the week before at Kentucky, but though she and Corouet absolutely proved how extraordinarily good they are, it ended up being an educational outing, rather than the win I’d so hoped for. But then, oh god, but then — there’s Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin, and, of course Laura Collett and the exceptional London 52, who’s statistically the favourite according to EquiRatings… Honestly, just pull the trigger, because I am incapable of settling on one here.
Top American: I’m so tempted to name them as my big winners, but in the interest of injecting some variety into my waffling, I’ll put Tamie Smith and Mai Baum up as the best American finishers this year. I actually think we’ll see a few US faces in the top fifteen – Ariel Grald is just getting better and better, and could easily slip into the top ten — but Tamie is going to lead the way. She’s well overdue her big moment on the world stage, and Badminton has a special kind of magic about it that means the fairytale story always comes true here. She came so close to winning Kentucky last year — and remains the winner in my heart — and now, I think she’ll lead the dressage here and finish up on a result she can be delighted with. If I wanted to get really specific, I’d predict a dressage lead, a slight dip in the standings for a smattering of time across the country, and then a closely fought battle over the poles in which she’d steal back the top spot because Mai Baum is so classy in this phase. Does that put me at odds with my own big winner (non)prediction? Maybe, baby — but I’m just hedging my bets.
Best Mare: As much as I’d love to put one of our old girls, previous winners Classic Moet and Vanir Kamira, up for this, I think it would be remiss to look past the exceptional young talent that is Tom McEwen‘s CHF Cooliser. Known as Queen Elizabeth at home, because she’s the consummate princess, she’s a fiery little redhead with a huge amount of class – and her three-phase performance at Pau last year was incredibly exciting to watch. I don’t think she’ll replicate her second-place finish here, because this field is so high-class, but I do think she’ll make herself a major talking point among the wider eventing community. I’m also a huge fan of Padraig McCarthy‘s elegant Fallulah, but the showjumping hasn’t quite come together yet, as we saw at Pau last year.
Spoiler Alert: “Well, there’s a German entered, but it’s not Michi.” That might be a thought that crosses the mind of a casual viewer skimming the programme — one who hasn’t keenly followed European eventing, and doesn’t realise that there’s some exceptional riders coming through the ranks in Herr Jung’s wake. One of those is Christoph Wahler, who rides like Steffen Peters on the flat and like Andrew Nicholson across the country, and is absolutely en route to winning a five-star in the next few years. He came second at Luhmühlen last year on his first run at the level, and he’s really nailed the balance of fitness and finesse with the excellent Carjatan S. I think they’ll sneak up on the big British names and leave a lot of them spluttering on his dust. I would actually feel thoroughly unsurprised if he won the whole shebang. His showjumping round at Luhmühlen remains one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing at the level.
Top Debutant: I’m in awe of the juggling act that Lauren Innes, who’s a full-time accountant, puts in to be able to ride and produce her quirky gelding, Global Fision M. She’s up before the sun most days and does everything herself, and I’ve never once seen her without a smile on her face. Their podium finish in the CCI4*-L at Blair was a seriously exciting reward for all her hard work, and while this field is much, much bigger and more competitive, that event certainly wasn’t a walkover. The mountainous terrain and tricky questions separated the men from the boys, as it were, and Lauren and Flipper made it all look easy. I think they’ll impress again this week.
Dark Horse: It’s got to be Helen Wilson and her debutant My Ernie. This incredible little horse was a cheap-as-chips reject, doesn’t travel easily, and has spent much of his career out hunting with the Surrey Union Hunt rather than scooping up prizes at stately homes. In fact, he only started eventing in mid-2019. But that’s meant that now he’s at the top level, he’s one of the most clever, footsure horses I’ve seen, and Eric has designed a track here that’s absolutely meant to reward horses whose training has come outside of the school. I think this’ll be the round of the day on Saturday.
Big Winner: Gosh, this is a tough one to try and call with a field this deep. There are so, so many serious competitors including a host of previous five-star winners, but I am going to go with individual Tokyo Olympic Silver medallists Tom McEwan and Toledo de Kerser. I’ve been reading that this Badminton course looks well-suited to this horse and I can’t wait to watch this pair tackle it.
Top American: It sounds like Tamie Smith and Mai Baum have all the local riders shaking in their boots. Go on, Tamie — show ’em what you’ve got! That said, what a fantastic North American contingent we have at this event this year. Overall, I think we have a great chance for some of the best finishes at this event that the U.S. and beyond has seen in a long time.
Best Mare: I just can’t not pick Classic Moet and Jonelle Price for this honor, and frankly I’d quite love for them to win the whole thing again! Who knows exactly how the course will ride on Saturday, but however it goes I bet “Molly” is ready to take it on.
Spoiler Alert: Will he or won’t he? That’s the question with Pippa Funnell‘s MGH Grafton Street as to whether he’ll stay focused and well-behaved on cross country day. This Burghley winner is known for his antics and simply just not wanting to play some days, but if he decides he’s on his game then he’s got the potential to become a two-time five-star winner.
Top Debutant: My mind, like so many others, is absolutely blown that this is Tom Carlile‘s first five-star. I honestly have never heard of Zanzibar Villa Rose Z, but I’m sure he’s wonderful and I bet they’ll do great. This is a tough one for me as I’m unfamiliar with most of these debutantes, but I hope they all have the rides of their lives and do amazing!
Big Winner: The Badminton field is infinitely more difficult to handicap than its Kentucky counterpart, but I’m game to give it a stab nonetheless. I think there are several possibilities here — after all, we’ve got the entire British gold medal-winning team assembled this weekend, plus a handful of other past winners and an equal handful of those who are perched on the precipice of a storybook weekend.
But I’m going to give my hat for this week to Laura Collett and London 52. This pair, who knows each other like the back of hand and hoof by this point, has been the picture of consistency in the lead-up to Badminton, though you might take notice if Sunday comes with Laura ahead by a pole: London 52’s had a rail down here and there in the past, including two down in the individual final in Tokyo. But, as with Michael and fischerChipmunk, those could nearly be forgiven considering the unique circumstances — luckily, there’s only one jump round to finish on Sunday at Badminton!
In a field where you could throw a rock and hit a 5* winner, it’s truly anyone’s game. The cool thing about this weekend is the strong mix of vastly experienced horses — time will tell if they’re all feeling up to their competitive peak, but you can’t argue with the mileage.
Top American: I could easily flip the coin over and pick Tamie Smith and Mai Baum here, and while I think there is every chance that popular pick is going to come to fruition, just for the sake of fun I’m going with Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan as top Americans.
Ariel tends to be a bit under the radar compared to some of her counterparts, but her results speak for themselves: she’s done three five-stars with the now 13-year-old Leamore Master Plan, and she’s never finished worse than 12th. Ariel and “Simon” made their debut at the level at Kentucky in 2019, finishing 12th. They followed that up with a little skip around Burghley that same fall, finishing tenth. Most recently, this pair was third at Luhmühlen last June. This would be one of the most consistent cross country horses — he’s got a blip here or there, including one drive-by at Great Meadow last summer that was unfortunate but mostly just a miscommunication, but he’s more likely to find the flags than not these days — and he’s got a cool, calm pilot with whom he has an excellent relationship showing him where to go.
Best Mare: Here I’m going to go ahead and admit that I lack sufficient knowledge of some (most) of the mares in this year’s field, so take my pick with a small grain of salt. However, though she may be 17 this year you just need to look at Vanir Kamira‘s results at the pop-up Bicton 5* last year to know that she’s still competitive and should not be written off.
Vanir Kamira and Piggy March are big Badminton fans — they won here in 2019, going on to then finish second at Burghley in the fall. This will be the mare’s fourth trip to this event and she’s definitely one you’ll want to be eyeing for another strong result to add to her very extensive CV.
Spoiler Alert: It feels silly to choose the Tokyo silver medalists as “spoilers” but such is the depth of this year’s field. Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser are another pair whose partnership is strong enough that they can almost certainly be expected to hit the top of the leaderboard or at least stay within striking distance throughout the weekend. It’s anyone’s game at this point, but this was another horse that made the testing conditions in Tokyo look as easy as they could be, and this type of big, bold track will be just what the doctor ordered as this pair’s first big run since the Olympics.
Like Shelby, I also had to do a double-take when I realized this will be Tom Carlile‘s 5* debut. Zanzibar Villa Rose Z is just 10, but I’m going to put my bet on the French development system that routinely sees young horses brought up the levels with care and diligence. Tom may be a 5* debutant, but he’s not short on international experience and he’ll have earmarked this event as the best place to move the gelding up for a reason.
I know I always abstain from these Team Picks, and it probably seems like a cop-out or proof that I’ve gone soft in my old age (guilty as charged!) The truth is, my wish for every horse and rider contesting Badminton 2022 is that they enjoy a safe, happy event. Best of luck to all!
What about you, EN? Want to test your skills and knowledge and pick a winner this weekend? You can play our Badminton Pick ‘EM & Win contest here — up for grabs is a prize pack that includes our new #goeventing merchandise + sponsor swag! Enter here before the start of dressage.