Badminton: It’s a game of snakes and ladders

By Derby House on |

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Was there ever such an emotional finale as the one yesterday at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials?

Delight and tears for the connections of the remarkable winning combination of William Fox-Pitt and the stallion Chilli Morning; heartache and tears for the connections of Nereo and Andrew Nicholson, whose grasp on his first Badminton title totally slipped away with a missed stride at the second fence in the showjumping. Will this 53-year-old ever win this prestigious and seemingly elusive title?

It doesn’t matter how well a combination complete what is one of the world’s most difficult cross country courses, they then have to hold it together and start again in the show jumping.

And after four frustrating second placings how long before a German rider wins? At least Ingrid Klimke, second again, this time with Horseware Hale Bob had some consolation with the prize for the ‘best owner/rider’.

That eventing is an extraordinary, tough and emotional rollercoaster of a sport was well and truly brought home in the main arena yesterday. It doesn’t matter how well a combination complete what is one of the world’s most difficult cross country courses, they then have to hold it together and start again in the show jumping.

More delight for Nicola Wilson and One Two Many whose clear round over the coloured poles brought them up from 18th after cross country to a final 7th place.

Ditto Irish Michael Ryan and Ballylynch Adventure; did he ever imagine that he would complete with a top ten placing when his dressage score left him in 48th place? And more heartache for Oliver Townend whose dreams of another win simply fell to the floor with the four poles that dropped him from third to 11th.

It’s akin to a giant game of snakes and ladders; elation when you get the ladder and disappointment when you get the snake. But put in perspective any rider that completes Badminton is a winner.

One of the things that really struck home this year; is there any other sport that produces such long-lived athletes? The oldest rider in the top ten was 59-year-old Sir Mark Todd in fourth place, 35 years since he first rode at Badminton – and won – and the youngest was 33-year-old Aoife Clark, 8th with Vaguely North. This not only illustrates how much experience counts at the level but also how hard it is for the younger riders to break through. The prize for the ‘highest placed youngest rider under 25’ went to 39th placed 21-year-old Brazilian Gabriel Silva Cury and he was in 81st place after dressage!

For the second year running, New Zealander Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy took home the William Miflin trophy awarded to the rider achieving a clear round nearest the optimum – this year down to a tenth of a second as four of them managed the feat.

Badminton debutant and amateur rider Ben Way, in 32nd won the prize for the highest placed British first-timer. With an eye-catching fast and clear cross country round he too had a great ladder up the leader board from 70th after dressage.

The prize for the greatest rise up the leader board however – the Glentrool trophy – went to Irish rider Joseph Murphy whose clear inside the time promoted him 45 places to a final 25th place from 70th.

It was overall a great competition for the Irish who also bred the highest placed mare – last year’s winner Paulank Brockagh who won her second stud voucher as well another embryo transfer.

Armada dishes awarded for five previous completions went to; Australians Sam Griffiths, Paul Tapner and Bill Levett, Frenchman Pascal Leroy and sole British rider Nick Gauntlett, some acknowledgement for the part he had to play in producing three of this year’s horses now ridden by others.

In fact the one downside was the not particularly great showing by British combinations. Asides from William Fox-Pitt and Nicola Wilson there were just two other British riders in the top 20 and one of those was the former three-time winner Pippa Funnell. Well done to Gemma Tattersall whose determined clear inside the time, with Arctic Soul, promoted her into 16th place.

Alongside Nicola Wilson she looks a likely contender for this year’s British squad for the European Championships at Blair Castle. As William has said that Chilli Morning is now off games for the rest of the year, the remainder of the squad, is not looking too obvious at this stage. And they are going to have their work cut out to beat the Germans and perhaps the Irish.

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