Michael Jung has successfully completed the first stage of his quest to land a significant eventing double.
Not only is Jung, the reigning Olympic and European individual champion, chasing an £80,000 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials top prize, he also has eyes on an additional £240,000 jackpot.
The Rolex Grand Slam, a prize awarded to any rider than wins consecutive Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton titles, has only been won once before — by Britain’s Pippa Funnell in 2003.
But 33-year-old Jung will achieve the feat is he follows up victories at Burghley and Kentucky by taking the Badminton crown.
And he could hardly have made a stronger start, leading after day one of dressage with La Biosthetique-Sam on a score of 34.4 penalties, which put him 3.8 penalties clear of his fellow German Andreas Ostholt, riding So Is Et, with Britain’s Francis Whittington lying third aboard Hasty Imp.
Jung said: “I am very happy. I had a wonderful feeling on the horse today. It was a really nice test.
“He was a bit nervous after we got here. He was full of energy when he arrived, and I couldn’t gallop him on Tuesday because the ground was very soft. But we have done enough work.
“I think about it (the Grand Slam), yes. It’s always in the head, but I would like to ride as normal, as if it is any other competition here.
“For me, it is the same as when you go to a major championship. You have to work like it is a normal competition, and today has worked well.”
Jung’s early afternoon test was performed in glorious sunshine, evident throughout day one, but his lead could be challenged on Friday when a number of strong contenders enter the dressage arena.
Among them are Mark Todd (Leonidas II), Zara Tindall (High Kingdom), Laura Collett (Grand Manoeuvre), Emily King (Brookleigh), Bettina Hoy (Designer 10), Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul) and Christopher Burton (Nobilis 18).
Reflecting on his test, current leading British contender Whittington said: “When I was planning for coming here, I came with no expectations. I have been in this (leaderboard) position before, but I know it can change overnight.
“It was a case of getting the horse nice and relaxed, and we did. He was very relaxed, and so was I.
“We went in there and didn’t try to do anything magical. We enjoyed it. I walked the cross-country course early today, and I am just going to the ride best I can and do the best I can.”
Attention will soon switch to Saturday’s cross-country challenge, with many observers feeling its degree of difficulty is back to that of two years ago when Badminton course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa really made his mark.
Badminton leaderboard: 1 – Michael Jung (La Biosthetique-Sam) 34.4, 2 – Andreas Ostholt (so Is Et) 38.2, 3 – Francis Whittington (Hasty Imp) 40.0, 4 – Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) 40.8, 5 – Jesse Campbell (Kaapachino) 41.1, 6 – Sam Griffiths (Paulank Broackagh) 42.2, 7 – Sarah Ennis (BLM Diamond Delux) 43.6, 8 – Sarah Bullimore (Valentino V) 44.4, 9 – Jonathan Paget (Clifton Lush) 45.2, 10 – Rosalind Canter (Allstar B) 45.6.
Image: Michael Jung riding La Biosthetique-Sam at Badminton, by Sebastian Oakley, courtesy of the FEI