It was a special moment in Eventing history as an ecstatic crowd at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR), first leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™, rose to their feet to salute the achievement of Mark Todd (NZL) in winning for the fourth time here since 1980.
“Thirty-one years’ experience comes in handy sometimes!” joked the ever-relaxed Todd, whose mount NZB Land Vision had never experienced the rarefied CCI4* atmosphere before.
“It is incredibly special, though, right up there with the back-to-back Olympic golds. When I came back to the sport (in 2008) it was to see if I could get back to top level. It has always been my aim to win another big one.”
Long acknowledged as the one of the best horsemen the world has ever seen, Todd is also the oldest winner of Badminton (after Andrew Hoy) by an astonishing eight years; he has matched Mark Phillips’ record of four Badminton victories (only Lucinda Green has more, six) and has achieved this major victory after just three years back in the sport after an eight-year “retirement”.
The 56 finishers produced 20 Jumping clears between them on Claire Fourgacs’ straightforward track, but it inevitably becomes much harder to achieve as the pressure mounts, and it would be hard to think of a more high-pressure finale than this one, in which the price of a fence covered the top 12 riders.
Caroline Powell (NZL), lying 10th after Cross-Country, was first to apply the pressure with a sparkling clear on her 18-year-old Burghley winner Lenamore and this ultimately pulled her up to sixth place.
Sweden’s Niklas Lindback, fifth on the much-admired Mister Pooh followed suit, as did Sam Griffiths (AUS) on Happy Times, fourth, and Mary King on Imperial Cavalier (third). Piggy French (GBR) showed the cool head that won her a European silver medal in 2009 and jumped clear on Jakata to score her best four-star result.
But they could only watch nervously as the atmosphere reached fever pitch and the stakes rose higher. The next three riders all faulted: Andrew Nicholson (NZL) on Nereo had two down and dropped to 12th below his other ride, 10th placed Avebury; Nicola Wilson (GBR) slipped four places to seventh on Opposition Buzz, and Marina Kohncke (GER) suffered the disappointment of having the final fence down on Calma Schelly, plus two time faults, which relegated her to ninth.
Land Vision was a tired horse at the end of Cross-Country, but he looked supple and athletic as he jumped around cleanly, only giving one fence a rattle. “In the end it came down to horse-power, and I’ve obviously got a good one here,” said Todd. “Charisma (his double Olympic gold medallist) will always be the most special horse, but this one has no weak links.”
In a good day for mature riders, third-placed Mary King, 49, who said “Badminton is the reason I’m still competing”, revealed that Piggy French, a mere 30 years old, used to send her fan mail. “And she’s still got my letters back in her bedside table! But it’ll be me writing to her now.”
“Finishing in the top three at Badminton has been my dream,” confessed French. “I didn’t feel too nervous and felt that what will be will be. I just wanted to do my best. I didn’t think the course was that tricky when I walked it, but that’s what can make it much harder. You just had to stay focused.”
Now, Todd is also looking to consolidate his early lead in the HSBC FEI Classics™ and flies to Kentucky tomorrow morning, where he will be riding his world bronze medal ride NZB Grass Valley. King is also aiming to collect more points and is taking two horses, Kings Temptress and Fernhill Urco.
HSBC Training Bursary
Fiona Hobby (GBR), 39, who moved up 18 places to finish 26th on the grey mare Roma ML, won the $1,000 HSBC Training Bursary as the best first-time four-star finisher. “I’m definitely going to spend it on dressage,” she said. “Roma couldn’t believe it when she arrived in the arena and saw all those people, but she was great across country, really focused. I’m delighted.”
Hobby runs a schooling yard in Wiltshire and is a qualified sports injury therapist. Her previous attempt at Badminton, in 2003, on Le Chef, ended when the horse was withdrawn after Cross-Country. Roma ML is a Holsteiner, by Bazar, bred in Germany but bought from Ireland. The pair finished seventh at Blenheim CCI3* last year. Hobby, who is married with two children, is from a Jumping background – her sister, Tina Fletcher, is a member of Britain’s Nations Cup teams – and she was National Junior Champion twice.
1 Mark Todd/NZB Land Vision (NZL) 36.8 + 6.8 + 0 = 43.6
2 Piggy French/Jakata (GBR) 36.0 + 9.2 + 0 = 45.2
3 Mary King/Imperial Cavalier (GBR) 44.2 + 1.6 + 0 = 45.8
4 Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 46.3 + 0 + 0 = 46.3
5 Niklas Lindback/Mister Pooh (SWE) 46.7 + 0 + 0 = 46.7
6 Caroline Powell/Lenamore (NZL) 47.2 + 0 + 0 = 47.2
7 Nicola Wilson/Opposition Buzz (GBR) 44.0 + 0 + 4 = 48.0
8 Laura Collett/Rayef (GBR) 36.5 + 8.8 + 4 = 49.3
9 Marina Köhncke/Calma Schelly (GER) 39.8 + 4 + 6 = 49.8
10 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 47.2 + 0 + 4 = 51.2