Michael Jung could be acclaimed as the greatest eventer of all-time if he lands the sport’s richest prize at this week’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
The reigning Olympic and European champion is one win away from completing the £240,000 Rolex Grand Slam, which is awarded for any rider who wins consecutive titles at Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton.
German ace Jung already has two in the bag — Burghley last September and Kentucky three days ago — and he has arrived at Badminton with London 2012 Olympic gold medallist La Biosthetique Sam.
And while there are a number of challengers who could run him close in pursuit of Badminton’s £80,000 top prize, no-one seriously expects him to come unstuck.
Remarkably, Jung has won eight of the 20 four-star events he has competed in during his stellar career, which says everything about the level of dominance he currently enjoys.
Zara Tindall, a former world champion and one of the leading British challengers this week, said: “It is the way sport evolves. People get better, and we have just got to catch him up. If you are able to get to the same level, then you are hopefully knocking the door at him, but you have got to get to that level first.”
Tindall, who competes in her first four-star for more than a year following High Kingdom’s recovery from injury, will be among several British combinations hoping to impress the Great Britain seectors just two months out from Rio Olympics selection.
Firstly, though, they have to meet the Rio qualifying standard at Badminton after missing out on the opportunity last year when High Kingdom suffered a pre-dressage stable injury in Kentucky and did not compete again until 2016.
“It would be amazing to go to Rio, and it is something we are all working towards, but it is competition by competition. We want to be as high placed as we can be here, then think about the rest after,” she said.
“I am really looking forward to it. I haven’t been here for a couple of years, and it is always nice to have a horse that is able to run at four-star level. There are so many in the frame (for Rio), but at the end of the day, if you don’t get enough consistent results, you are not going to go anyway.”
Jung apart, Badminton this year is perhaps just as notable for riders who are not among the field, with reigning champion William Fox-Pitt, former world number one Andrew Nicholson and three-time Badminton winner Pippa Funnell all absent.
But there is still plenty for anticipated bumper crowds to enjoy across four days of action — sunshine is promised throughout — with last year’s European Championships quartet of Oliver Townend, Gemma Tattersall, Laura Collett and Nicola Wilson among those looking to make a mark.
Townend will set the ball rolling on Thursday morning as first-to-go in dressage on Thursday with the 17-year-old Armada, while he also has his 2014 World Equestrian Games campaigner Black Tie in the field. Elsewhere, former Badminton winners Mark Todd, Paul Tapner and Sam Griffiths all have their backers.
“Both my horses look like they are in good nick,” Townend said. “We all know Armada, we know he has been very special. This will be his last Badminton — I am pretty certain his last four-star — so let’s give him a good week.
“Black Tie being here is just very special for the owner Karyn Shuter, who brought him over from New Zealand. He cost a few hundred pounds out of a free-ads magazine in New Zealand. He’s been a racehorse, he’s been a gymkhana pony, and now he’s at Badminton.”
Image: morning at Badminton, by kit Houghton, courtesy of Kit Houghton and the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials