Few were under any illusion that it would be a difficult day: today’s course was, without a doubt, the toughest, most ‘proper’ five-star track we’ve seen since Burghley 2019, and many riders expressed some healthy trepidation about whether they, and their horses, were ready to tackle such a challenge again. And from the word go, it certainly felt like it was going to be a very long day indeed – though pathfinder Kirsty Chabert made tidy work of the first two-thirds of the course, she was ultimately eliminated with Classic VI for accumulated refusals at the second of the open timber corners at 19AB. Second out, Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy and Fallulah, proved it was jumpable with their steady clear, but third starter Joseph Murphy set a surprising trend for run-outs at the seemingly innocuous Quarry with Cesar V and, in arguably the most shocking twist of the day’s competition, fourth competitor and hot favourite Tom McEwen didn’t even complete with his double Olympic medallist Toledo de Kerser after the pair fell at the bounce at 24ABCD after coming in at too high a velocity and missing their distance. Just minutes later, European Champions Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin would also fall on course, necessitating a half-hour hold on course while the rider was stabilised and transferred to nearby Southmead Hospital for trauma scans.
When two high-profile falls happen in such quick succession, it can give the impression of a particularly brutal day of cross-country, but with its 72.5% completion rate and 62.5% clear rate, Badminton’s influence on paper was much the same as it’s always been, and by the end of the day, a rather generous six horse-and-rider combinations had come home clear and inside the time. Many frustrating but ultimately harmless paradigm shifts were made across the leaderboard throughout proceedings: Pippa Funnell retired on course with Billy Walk On, sixteenth after dressage, after refusals at the drop into the MARS Equestrian Sustainability Bay, as did Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden, who had been lying fourth after the first phase. Matt Flynn and Wizzerd of the USA also met a similar fate at this question. Pippa’s second ride, the 2019 Burghley winner MGH Grafton Street, didn’t fare much better — they fell at fence five, a straightforward log while sitting in eleventh place provisionally, and Kylie Roddy, who had been in twentieth place with SRS Kan Do, put her hand up halfway around after the horse lost its front shoes.
By the time overnight leader Laura Collett and her Tokyo partner London 52 left the start box, though, several riders had proven that although it was inarguably tough — and absolutely heaving with sharp left-handed turns — it was jumpable. By that point, though, she’d given up on trying to glean any inspiration from the screens in the riders’ tent: “I did start watching, but I walked away after a while, I’m not going to lie,” she says. “I was a bit gutted that I didn’t see Piggy’s round, because she just goes out and does her thing, but I’d walked away by that point because I thought, we’re not watching rubbish riders — we’re watching the very best in the world, and it’s not happening. So in a funny way, in my head I took a deep breath and thought, ‘well, if I mess it up, I’m not going to be the only one today that does.’”
It was going to be an enormous and hugely important test for the Pau winner, who hasn’t yet had the opportunity to test his mettle over a course of this magnitude — and when he left a leg jumping into the Quarry at 4A, many onlookers wondered if this, perhaps, was a step beyond his scope.
It was, quite categorically, not.
“I rode very badly into that and then got my arse in gear,” laughs Laura, who sailed home inside the time to hold a 4.7 penalty lead going into the final phase. “I never knew how deep he would dig for me, and he just kept on digging. It was relentless out there in the Vicarage area, and the Vicarage Vee was the only time where he I think questioned my sanity as to what on earth I was asking him to do. But he just said, ‘okay — if you say we go, we go!’ and luckily, he’s super scopy.”
Laura was held on course just after finishing the intensive back section, of the track, which zig-zags through the Vicarage ditch line and over a number of tight, twisty technical combinations — but though it may have come as some relief to have the bulk of the track behind her, it was a lengthy wait to restart with several influential fences still to come.
“The thing that amazed me as well is that he’s never been held on course before, and to be held at that point — you’re so close, and yet so far,” she says. “There’d been quite a few tumbles later on, and I didn’t know how he’d cope, but he just came back on the bridle and it was like riding a fresh horse. He said ‘right, off we go again — mum’s gone a bit mental and we’re doing two cross-country rounds in one day, but okay!’”
After helping the British team to gold at the Olympics in front of a nearly empty stadium, coming back into the arena to uproarious cheers from the packed stands gave Laura and her horse an enormous buzz.
“Crossing the finish line at Tokyo was just unbelievable but with the crowds here, and it being Badminton — I’m not going to say it tops Tokyo, but it is on a par,” she says. “That horse is a show-off; he’s hated not having crowds. He rises to the occasion, and his best rounds have been at Boekelo with people screaming and crowds, and this tops any crowd anywhere in the world. He just loved it.”
Even the rounds marked as clear weren’t without their fair share of drama: Oliver Townend and the former Andrew Nicholson ride Swallow Springs had a contentious jump through the Quarry when a disagreement on the stride pattern saw them twist outside the remit of the flags at the C element. While those of us in the mixed zone frantically tried to refresh the live scoring to work out if he’d simply earned a 15 or if he’d be eliminated for being considered as not having cleared the fence, he continued on at pace and jumped several more fences before being pulled up for the long hold after Nicola’s fall. Half an hour later, they were restarted, continued on, and finished inside the time — and then, shortly after the conclusion of their round, they were eliminated for not having re-presented to the fence they’d skidded over earlier. After lodging an appeal, they were un-eliminated and escaped without flag penalties, either, which sees them sit second going into tomorrow’s competition.
“He’s athletic, isn’t he? I’m still sure it’s four coming up out of the Quarry, but Andrew Nicholson obviously didn’t think so,” says Oliver. “It was four when I jumped over the wall and I thought, ‘perfect, nice and deep to the hedge’, and he really picked up on it early. I thought there was plenty of room for a little stride, but Andrew’s produced the horse to go through the flags and he definitely did that. Thankfully, I stayed on him.”
Oliver’s hold came reasonably early on in the course, just before the eggboxes at 12AB that lead into the tough middle section of the track. After restarting, though, Oliver found it harder to regain the gelding’s previous rhythm.
“The rest of them will think it’s a huge advantage to have had a hold there, because then you have only got seven minutes to go, but I thought he was travelling far better once we got going before the hold,” he says. “After the hold, I [jumped] too big at the egg box because I was restarting my watch, so we stood off a long way there. It takes the breath out of you a little bit, having a big jump like that, and then you’ve got the ski jump after that so you’re in the air for another three seconds, and then I flung him over the big corners — so there’s no real rest. For me, it would have been better to have kept him going, rather than having the break, but the result’s a good one and he’s finished very happy within himself.”
Oliver also sits third on his Burghley and Kentucky winner Ballaghmor Class, who delivered a clear round inside the time to move up from eighth after dressage and stay on his score of 25.9 overnight. But the enormously consistent five-star horse, who has never finished outside the top five at the level, took longer than anticipated to settle — and Oliver had to employ some creative thinking to get his horse back in the right headspace before his round.
“He actually worried me slightly in the warm-up,” he says. “He went to boil over a little bit, and then he found two hunt horses — he’s never been hunting, but they were both grey and I walked him around them and he literally switched off from being off his tree. He’d found his two friends, his comfort blanket, and so I walked a five meter circle around these two hunters for twelve minutes or so and he smiled and breathed. I said to the riders, ‘come and meet me in the start box,’ and they did, so he settled again in the start box and then left it like he’d been shot up the backside. I thought, ‘here we go again!’”
Though the first section of the course was necessarily devoted to getting him back to the task at hand, he settled into his typical rhythm by the key central section.
“He’s a funny, quirky old horse but he’s a phenomenon, and one that I don’t think I’ll ever have again,” says Oliver. “He was quite cocky early on, and a little bit away with me. We ended up adding in a couple of places where I’d planned to go one less, and he was a bit tricky to steer in Huntsman’s, but then he got halfway round and said ‘oh, I remember where I am — this is hard work!’ The minute he settles down he lets me ride him, and he tells me when I need to lean forward and give him a dig, and he responds beautifully. He’s just a very good friend, and I feel that you could set out a six- or seven-star and I’d still come home on him. He’s very, very special.”
Ros Canter also sits in the top ten with both of her rides, though it’s the debutant Lordships Graffalo who tops her two rides after producing a clear inside the time that belied his relative inexperience.
“He really is unbelievable,” says Ros of the rising ten-year-old. “He did his first four-star this time last year, and he just finds the job easy — he finds running easy, he finds balancing easy, and he finds going easy. I think he thoroughly enjoyed himself out there today. I adore Allstar B to bits, but this horse is in a class of his own in terms of the way he goes cross-country. He’s got such a long stride but then has the ability to shorten and add a stride without ever really taking offence to it, which does make my life easier.”
Ros’s World Champion Allstar B added just 1.2 time penalties to take overnight sixth place, and looked much improved from the European Championships last year, where he made two uncharacteristic mistakes on course while struggling with what looked to be a touch of burnout from a fractured summer season fittening up for, travelling to, and ultimately not competing in Tokyo, where he was the British reserve. A long winter of hacking and unwinding has done wonders, and the seventeen-year-old made the course feel ‘rather like a Pony Club track’, according to Ros.
“He’s an absolute legend, and he’s made for tracks like this,” she says. “It’s tough out there, and the amount of people out there is mind-blowing — the crowds are so thick that you can’t always see where your next jump is. In places, it rides like a short format, which doesn’t always suit him because he’s a big horse and not very easy to manoeuvre, but if I get him to the point of take-off, he gives it a good go.”
Piggy March has been waiting for two achingly long years to give her reigning Badminton champion Vanir Kamira a crack at one of the ‘Big Bs’, which is where the unconventional little mare comes into her own – and her round proved that the wait had been well worth it. Though she didn’t quite catch the time — and we suspect she’ll be ruing her one second over — she sits in fifth place going into the final day after a jolly skip around Eric’s colossal track. Even aboard one of the very best five-star horses in the world, Piggy found the course a real test of her skills.
“It felt like hard work all the way to the end — it was very intense, not that it’s ever not at Badminton,” she says.
Contributing to that feeling of intensity was the mental challenge of an early draw, knowing that her friends and peers had already had so many problems out on course: “You’ve got your great mates out there that have been having problems — really good mates not coming home having fallen and all the rest of it. It does make you think for a second; you’re always on your A-game anyway, but you know what to look out for more, and so it’s like picking yourself up.”
The lengthy hold after Nicola’s fall didn’t just test riders’ mental strength in the warm-up area — it also wreaked havoc on their finely-honed timings.
“She’d been out here a long time. She’s never out here longer than twenty minutes before she starts, and even though I was off her, she did switch off and it’s not what we’re used to,” Piggy explains. “I felt that she just ran a little bit like that to start with. She’s a bit older now, so I do respect that, but she just didn’t travel very well to Huntsman’s. She caught her knee at the first part of Huntsman’s quite badly, and the rail is actually quite low — I know we don’t get very high on a regular basis, but that’s low! She gave it a good twist, and she was never off her line or anything, but I gave her a little reminder, a tap-tap and ‘come on, Tillybean, we’re off to the races today; we’re not just training.’ By the time we got to the lake and all the crowds, she picked up and I felt we got into gear, but I was down on those seconds, and I didn’t feel that there was anywhere in the middle that we could have made it up. So we were hammer and tongs the whole way.”
Still, though, she was delighted to have recorded another excellent round in the hallowed grounds that housed her first five-star victory three years ago, and aboard the gutsy, slightly odd little mare that had partnered her then.
“She’s an amazing little horse and she’s given me the best days of my life competing. She’s one of those horses that if you ever rode her at home, you wouldn’t give her another thought — but she’s one of those horses that’s so special in her heart, and what she does when she knows what the occasion is. Today was one of those days; she looks a picture, she’s finished well, and I’m just so proud of her. It’s such a credit to the little horse’s mind and heart and guts that she’s still there to say ‘come on now, I’m still here’. It gives everyone a bit of sport.”
It certainly wasn’t a bad day to be aboard a tough, game older mare with a boatload of experience, and 2018 Burghley winners Jonelle Price and Classic Moet were at their speedy best, zooming home inside the time to move up from 27th place to seventh.
“She comes in with such a phenomenal track record that it’s sort of my job to defend it. But she certainly did today,” says Jonelle, whose extraordinarily consistent little mare came to this event as one of two nineteen-year-old horses in the field — not that you’d know it to watch her.
I was maybe five seconds down at the ninth minute, and then I really feel the pressure, because if I have a time fault on this horse, I look stupid! So I really put my foot down and said ‘right, we’re going to gallop along here’, and at the next minute I was seven seconds up. There’s not many horses that from the ninth minute to the tenth you can put your foot on the gas and make that change. There are some fences she slithers over a little bit, and I was a little bit backwards to the Vicarage Vee, but she feels spot-on, and I’m very honoured to have a round like that at Badminton.”
The last time Kitty King came to Badminton with the excellent Selle Français gelding Vendredi Biats, she left the start box in a competitive position after dressage and then fell on course at the Normandy Bank but this time, she says with a laugh, “I fell off my bike last night instead, so I got it out of the way!”
Though the pair lived a little dangerously with a tricky stride at the lake, they came home clear with a respectable eight time penalties. Though that dropped them from third after dressage to eighth, it was rock-solid proof that the gelding, who’s occasionally had some focusing issues in this phase, has truly turned a corner over the last two years.
“When I knew the track was going left rein, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for him because from a young horse, he’s always struggled with turning left,” she explains. “All the approaches to the tricky combinations were off a tight left turn — the Quarry, Huntsman’s, the water — and he likes to on the right lead, so he comes around on the right lead falling in, and you don’t get the shot you want, which makes it hard work. So we were a bit slow because I just had to, in the end, just calm down and think about what we’re doing. Although we were getting through them, we were making it heavy weather and harder than it should be, so I had to just kind of take a pull and say ‘let’s just sort this out and get around’. He was fabulous and helped me all the way, and we worked as a partnership, but it definitely wasn’t the smoothest round we’ve ever had.”
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“I’m feeling quite emotional — it was quite exciting,” says William Fox-Pitt after his first round with the thirteen-year-old Oratorio, who added just two time penalties to sit tenth after this phase. “I was dreading it, of course; in my old age I was thinking ‘what the hell am I doing? Do I really want to be here today on Saturday morning? I’d quite like to be at home in bed!’ But then there’s lots of us doing it, and it was okay.”
Oratorio’s excellent round put tricky weeks at Kentucky and Pau last year well behind him, and he climbed an impressive seventeen places from his first-phase position in 27th.
“He’s a lovely, classy horse and he’s experienced now — he’s done Badminton last time it ran and many horses haven’t,” says William. “I’ve had a couple of other runs around five-stars that were good mileage runs; I fell off him at Kentucky and had a run-out at Pau, but they were stupid, avoidable things and he actually took a lot home from that. He came here as a bit more of a man.”
The two time faults the pair added weren’t due to any natural lack of speed on the horse’s part, but rather, his tendency to pull. That requires a significant amount of set-up for each effort which, over a nearly 12 minute track, can prove enormously costly.
“He’s quite busy to ride. I like a much more peaceful ride, but he’s quite opinionated, so it wasn’t very relaxing. It wasn’t stressful, it was just busy. Every time I thought I could gallop, I thought ‘oh, no, I’ll have to slow down again’, because he takes so long to slow down and so I waste a lot of time. He should gallop around inside the time, really — I’ve always said he’s a Burghley horse through and through, and here I am getting time faults at Badminton! I need to learn to pull less and later.”
By the end of the day, he was probably rather wondering what all the initial fuss was about: he’s the third rider to have two rides feature in the top ten, with Little Fire also climbing from 15th to ninth with his six time penalties.
“He’s a seriously nice horse, so I’d hoped he’d go that well,” he says. “He always does get a bit tired at the end — I think breathing-wise, he’s working hard, and he’s not as fit as Oratorio. I think he over jumped a couple of jumps because he was slightly taking a breath.”
Though the top ten is full of heavy-hitting big names, a number of slightly lesser-known riders impressed with gutsy, exciting rounds that moved them well into contention. David Doel climbed from 32nd to eleventh place on 1.2 time penalties with the flashy Galileo Nieuwmoed after digging deep to survive a sticky moment at the LeMieux Leap coffin complex, while France’s Gireg le Coz powered the exquisite Aisprit de la Loge to twelfth place on a tidy 7.2 time penalties.
Ireland’s Austin O’Connor proved that his thirteenth place at Tokyo with Colorado Blue was no fluke as he moved into the same placing here, adding nothing to his first phase score and confidently climbing from 58th place, and Germany’s Christoph Wahler was a true stylist with the huge-striding Carjatan S to climb from 33rd to fourteenth with just 3.6 time penalties.
The USA’s Tamie Smith produced what was, perhaps, the neatest of rounds in a day of necessarily agricultural riding to sit fifteenth with Mai Baum. They added 11.2 time penalties, which pushed them out of their fifth place position after dressage, but proved that the German gelding truly is an asset to the US team’s ambitions on the world stage.
“He has a stigma about him that he’s not a great cross country horse, but he’s the best horse in the world. He’s un-frickin’-real; he’s like a magic carpet, and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” enthuses Tamie. “He was full of run and super rideable, but what’s really great about him is that he can overjump a bit in the showjumping, but on the cross-country, he just does exactly as much as he needs to. I even heard brush as his legs went through, which was really impressive!”
Tamie opted to prioritise giving her horse a productive, confident run rather than taking risks to catch the time: “The lake jumped a bit bigger than I expected,” she says. “I almost got there in four, but I just swung out, because I didn’t want to start leaving strides out. I saw that that wasn’t a good plan, and the horse tends to want to leave strides out. But other than that, everything rode exactly to plan.”
Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan delivered another mature, balanced, exciting clear round in their fourth run at the level, climbing from 54th to 24th after adding just eight time penalties.
“I wanted to go as quickly as I could, but he got quite keyed up down in the warm-up,” she says. “He’s quite an exuberant horse anyway; he doesn’t have a whole lot of patience, and he knows what we’re doing today. So it was a little bit tricky having to wait down below, and he came up here and just gunned it out of the start box. I was like, ‘you know what? The only thing I have to do is find a rhythm with him.’ If he and I are in the same space and we’re connected, he’s great — and he was just like that the whole way around, and if little things weren’t quite perfect, he’s scopy and he’s brave and he’s got a great step, so I can make up for little mistakes.”
Both Ariel and ‘Simon’ found the colossal crowds a unique challenge, and relied on their solid partnership to find their way through the course.
“It’s a challenge [to tackle the crowds] — I’m very new to this; this is my first Badminton and he’s my first four- and five-star horse. We’ve come along together. So it was definitely a challenge to try and see where I was going next. If you look up, all you’re going to see is people, so I was just staring between his ears and trying to read the lines. It’s a little bit hard to gauge — when you’re walking, you feel like, ‘okay, that jump is over there, I’ll be there in thirty seconds’, but today, you can’t see ahead of you at all. There’s so many people, so you can’t see a thing. I just kept looking between his ears and just reminding myself that he and I need to stay connected and stay in the same place — and then he just picked up everything.”
Phillip Dutton and Z picked up 10.8 time penalties on course, which allowed them to climb from 39th to 25th place, though an early loss of a shoe slowed them down along the way: “It was slippery and so it was hard for me to get back up on the time, because he lost a back shoe and was struggling a bit into the turns. But he’s a brave little horse and even when he slipped on the turn, he still had a crack at it. He’s a very good horse, I’ll tell you. Sometimes they’ve got to really fight for you, and he certainly did that.”
Will Faudree also recorded 10.8 time penalties and an impressive climb with Mama’s Magic Way, who stepped up from 74th to 35th place in what was Will’s first Badminton round since 2005.
“If I was 22 again, I probably would have kept hustling him at the last six, seven jumps to get as close to the time as I could, but what’s that saying? ‘With age comes wisdom’, and I was off the pace after the dressage, so I just wanted him to have a really confident round,” says Will. “He’s a horse for the future; he’s just eleven years old, and so I did take a bit of time, but he kept jumping right to the last few fences, and he finished full of running at the end.”
US-based Aussie Dom Schramm posted a clear round with Bolytair B, moving from 75th to 54th. Their 44.4 time penalties, though, precluded a more significant climb and came as the result of a last-minute change of bit that didn’t quite pay off.
“He’s an incredible, scopy, powerful horse, and he’s always been a strong horse. The bit that I’ve been using in my last five-stars wasn’t really working very well, and I didn’t have another show to run, but I got a new bit and it was great for schooling,” says Dom. “I got through the Quarry, and then I got to the next jump, and every time I tried to make a half-halt he was getting faster, so I just thought ‘you know what, I’m not going to push him past where I can control him’. It’s unfortunate — I wish I could have been a bit more speedy, but it is what it is.”
Dom, who had been looking forward to jumping the iconic Vicarage Vee, certainly saw some airtime there: “I saw an absolute flyer, and I was like, ‘I’m going to be this dickhead guy that’s going to eat shit at the Vicarage Vee’. But he was great — he’s got so much scope that if I give him a little nudge he just goes about sixteen feet longer!”
Canada’s Mike Winter completed with a steady round after picking up 20 penalties in the back water at 17B, when the strong, keen El Mundo landed further out from the drop than anticipated and lost his line.
“He jumped past my line at the water at the top, and I tried to do my best not to cross my path, but in the heat of the moment all I could do was my best to salvage the situation,” Mike says. “Then he was great at the coffin where he added the third stride, which wouldn’t be his easiest thing, and at the open corners he just never locked on — but where he left from, he just reached across it and jumped his guts out, and never lost any confidence.”
Emily Hamel, too, came home with a 20 at the same fence and added time with Corvett, who otherwise looked exuberant and confident around the course and will have learned plenty in preparation for a crack at Burghley this autumn.
“It was unfortunate that we had a problem, but I probably didn’t give him a great ride and he still went. I had to pull out [of the line] because I nearly fell off, but I didn’t — I stayed on and I finished,” she says. “He’s kind of a freak, but he makes me feel really confident going to any jump, just because I know he can clear it.”
Canada’s Karl Slezak ended his day with Fernhill Wishes early, encountering trouble at both the Huntsmans Close as well as the KBIS Brush Village. “We had a very disappointing day today,” Karl told us. “Choc felt very good leaving the box and was in top form; unfortunately we fell fate to the Badminton atmosphere. The course I walked yesterday felt very different than the course I rode today. It all walked very doable yesterday, but this number of spectators and this atmosphere certainly changed the feel of it today.”
“I think the early horses went out very quickly and then some mistakes were made,” says course designer Eric Winter at the close of the day’s competition. “Then later on in the day, it almost seemed that they just look a little longer — just a second here, and a second there. When you’ve got nearly twelve minutes there’s a lot of gallop, and it’s not necessary to rush to things. As soon as you start to rush, mistakes happen. But it was a good day of sport: there was 100,000 people here, and stuff’s going to happen. You can’t have 100,000 people come and everyone jumps clear and it’s just, you know, a Pony Club track. It was an exciting day and the leaderboard’s been changed significantly.
59 horses and riders remain in the hunt ahead of tomorrow’s competition, which kicks off at 8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST with the final horse inspection. The showjumping will commence at 11.30 a.m./6.30 a.m. EST with the first batch of competitors, followed by the top twenty from 3.30 p.m./10.30 a.m. EST. We’ll be back with all the news you need to know throughout the day’s competition. Until then: Go Eventing!