Michael Jung is on the verge of being acclaimed as one of eventing’s greatest riders.
Jung will go into Sunday’s showjumping phase of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials with two fences in hand on his nearest rival — fellow German Andreas Ostholt — as he targets an £80,0000 Badminton top prize and the £240,000 Rolex Grand Slam.
The Grand Slam is awarded for consecutive victories at Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton. It has not been achieved since Britain’s Pippa Funnell completed a clean sweep 13 years ago.
Jung, the reigning Olympic and European champion, holds an advantage of nine penalties over his second-placed compatriot Andreas Ostholt (So Is Set) with leading British challenger Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul) in third and New Zealand’s twice Olympic champion Mark Todd (Leonidas II) fourth.
“He jumped so powerfully, galloped very easily inside the time, and it is an amazing feeling,” said Jung, following his cross-country round on La Biosthetique-Sam.
“It (Badminton) is a course for this horse. He likes the cross-country so much. The best feeling is that when I ride the horse, he really trusts me in every situation and every moment.”
And reflecting on the possibility of a Grand Slam, Jung added: “It is one step closer, but now we enjoy the moment on what has been a very nice day. I am so happy that I can ride such a nice horse, and we are looking forward to tomorrow.
“It is an amazing feeling. He is so beautiful to ride in cross-country. I had many options in my head, but at every fence he knew exactly what he had to do. He jumped so clearly and powerfully.
“When you sit on the horse, you feel his power. He is very experienced. Anything cam happen on the day — as riders, we know that — but this horse is amazing.”
Eleven combinations completed Italian course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s course inside the optimum time of 11 minutes, 58 seconds.
But there was also misery for Emily King, daughter of six-time Olympian Mary King, who was within sight of the main arena towards the end of an outstanding round when she fell from Brookleigh. Nonetheless, King’s performance might still have been enough to keep her in Rio Olympics selection contention.
The day, though, belonged to 33-year-old Jung on the brilliant La Biosthetique-Sam, who added: “Everything is so easy for him. It was like a one-star (event), and that makes me very proud of him. He always trusts me and listen me.
Meanwhile, Sussex-based Tattersall said of her round: “He went out of the start-box like a shotgun. It was like he was running at Cheltenham.
“He felt feisty and strong. I actually laughed after jumping the Vicarage-Vee (fence 21) because he was so amazing.
“Everyone’s dream is to get to an Olympics, and I am going to give it my best shot.”
Oliver Townend, who is the second highest-placed British hope in eighth spot aboard Armada, delivered an outstanding clear inside the time from first to go on what was his 17-year-old ride’s probable Badminton farewell.
“He has changed a lot with age,” Townend said. “He has definitely got very clever with the ones (fences) that he doen’t have to put much effort into!
“Of course, he has got a huge amount of ability, of course he wants to still do it, but I think he is the equivalent of a 70-year-old man now! It’s a huge thrill for him to have a last Badminton like that.
“If he is fit and wanting to do it, he isn’t going to have any other job apart from an event horse, so what do you do? He jumps out of the field when he is bored these days!
“There were not particularly comfortable feelings at times, but at the same time, it was a very safe feeling. He always felt like he was going to happen one way or another.”
Another Olympic hopeful, Zara Tindall, effectively met Rio’s selection criteria aboard High Kingdom, lying in 24th place overnight on the pair’s first four-star outing in more than a year.
“He was a little bit keen early on, so I couldn’t let the handbrake off. But I had so much fun,” Tindall said.
“When a horse does their job and does everything you ask from it, that’s why you do it.”
Leaderboard after cross-country: 1 – Michael Jung (La Biosthetique-Sam) 34.4, 2 – Andreas Ostholt (So Is Set) 43.4, 3 – Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul) 44.6, 4 – Mark Todd (Leonidas II) 44.8, 5 – Jonathan Paget (Clifton Lush) 45.2, 6 – Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) 45.6, 7 – Astier Nicolas (Quckly Du Bouget) 45.9, 8 – Oliver Townend (Armada) 46.2, 9 – Izzy Taylor (Allercombe Ellie) 46.4, 10 – Gwendolen Fer (Romantic Love) 47.1.
Image: Michael Jug during the cross-country phase of the Badminton horse trials, by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials