New Zealand fields nine riders at this weekend’s Badminton Horse Trials, taking on competitors from 14 other nations including the home country of Britain.
Kiwi riders Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd are favourites in the star-studded field.
Four-time winner Todd, who last won in 2011, has two in the mix and says both are capable of a podium finish. Nicholson holds a record 33 completions of the tough cross country but has never been able to win, and is more than ready for victory. “It must be time,” he said.
Nicholson has Deborah Sellar’s 11-year-old Quimbo and 14-year-old Nereo on the card. Aboard Nereo, he was third by just 0.5 of a penalty point at Badminton last year.
“Nereo, you would have to say, is the hardened, experienced one of the two and is so consistent. Quimbo has been a winner but just doesn’t have that experience.”
It will be Quimbo’s first start at Badminton.
“He’s done two four star events last year and should be quite capable but whether he is fast enough … we will see.”
Todd has NZB Campino (owned by New Zealand Bloodstock and Todd) and Leonidas II (owned by Diane Brundsden, Peter Cattell and Todd) entered. Both are having their first starts at Badminton.
“I rate them both very well and they are capable of placing in the top few,” Todd said.
There are plenty of changes for the 2014 event, including a new cross-country course designer and increased prize money. Giuseppe Della Chiesa makes his debut at Badminton, creating a little history himself – it is the first time in 25 years the event has had a new designer.
Nicholson is looking forward to the new track. “It will be interesting and I am hoping he has put his touch onto it. I gather a few of the old Badminton type features are back, which is a good thing.”
This year’s winner will receive £80,000, up from £65,000 in 2013, with the increases are also reflected in the lower placings – Badminton prides itself on giving much the highest level of prizes in the world right down to 20th place.
Also starting for New Zealand are husband and wife team Tim and Jonelle (nee Richards) Price. Tim has Ringwood Sky Boy (owned by Robert Taylor, Selwood.com and Price) and Wesko (the Wesko Syndicate) while his wife has The Deputy (owned by Lucy Sangster, Tim and Jan Morice and Selwood.com). It is the first time at Badminton for all of the horses.
Megan Heath and her own St Daniel made the start list after others dropped out, much to her relief. Heath will be keen to improve on their 44th place effort of last year at Badminton.
Caroline Powell and Onwards and Upwards (owned by Cameron and Mary Crawford and Powell) were 21st last year and again will be keen for a better effort, as will Lucy Jackson, who is entered aboard Willy Do (owned by Gillian Greenlees and Jackson).
Annabel Wigley aboard Frog Rock (owned by Sally, John and Annabel Wigley) have their first start at Badminton, while Neil Spratt and Upleadon (owned by Annitta Engel, Sharon Robbins and Spratt) haven’t been at the event since their efforts in 2010.
It is New Zealand’s largest turn-out so far this season.
Eight former winners of the Badminton trophy have entered, including Todd, Australians Andrew Hoy, Paul Tapner, and Lucinda Fredericks and Brits Mary King, Oliver Townend, Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt.
More than 130 entries were received for the 85 places available.
The event gets under way on Wednesday local time with the first horse inspection, followed by two days of dressage, the cross-country on Saturday and showjumping on Sunday.