Australian Paul Tapner has leapt to the lead in the Badminton Horse Trials, after an influential cross-country reminiscent of times of old.
Tapner, 38, won in 2010 and if he and Kilronan go clear in Sunday’s jumping round, the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials title will be theirs. Badminton is the fourth leg of the FEI Classics series.
The combination was second after dressage and the mud-loving Irish gelding Kilronan tackled Guiseppe Della Chiesa’s revamped track early in the day. They looked beatable when taking the long route at Huntsman’s Close (fence 22-23) and clocked 20 time penalties to finish on a score of 56.4.
But strong winds, rain and holding ground made the course extremely influential and only 35 riders completed, none of them coming anywhere near the optimum time of 11 minutes 21 seconds.
It was a good day for Irish riders, though, with four successfully completing the course on the Duke of Beaufort’s estate, while three Irish Sport Horses are in the top five. Both Kilronan and Ringwood Sky Boy are Irish Sport Horses, along with Paulank Brockagh in fifth, ridden by Australia’s Sam Griffiths.
Ireland’s Capt. Geoff Curran and Shanclough Crecora (ISH) were best of the Irish, finishing 16th, with Austin O’Connor and Ringwood Mississippi (ISH) close behind in 20th. Next best of the Irish contingent were Clare Abbott and Euro Prince (ISH), making their Badminton debut and completing the course in 27th position, while Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello (ISH) finished in 31st place.
The leaderboard looks completely different from Friday, with only two of the top 10 after dressage completing: Tapner plus Mark Todd with his second ride Leonidas ll, who have dropped from equal ninth to 17th after picking up extra time penalties when the horse lost his line in the Lake and plunged into deep water.
New Zealand’s Tim Price rose from 41st after dressage to second after a brilliant round on Ringwood Sky Boy with the fastest time of the day for 11.6 time penalties. French rider Pascal Leroy and the lovely Minos de Petra leapt 27 places to third with 15.2 time penalties.
This was Price’s third start at Badminton, with his best effort previously being 20th aboard Vortex in 2009.
“It is really not easy out there,” said Price. “The conditions are a bit testing and it is an out and out decent track. We had the odd hairy moment out there but I knew he would get through it.”
While Price admitted showjumping was the horse’s weakest phase, he is getting better at it.
“He is improving all the time with age and training. I believe in him and I think tomorrow he will come out and jump well.”
Tapner said his ride didn’t go exactly to plan, “because I wasn’t within the time! I went long at Huntsman Close which wasn’t part of the plan but I knew I was in a bit of trouble in terms of the petrol left in the tank when I was coming back up into the park after the Vicarage (fence 15) – didn’t have enough energy left as I wanted and needed to conserve energy.
“It wasn’t about the clock. It was about getting the job done; it was about getting clear and getting home. The Australian coach said that “it’s a battlefield out there” and you’ve only got to look at the scoreboard to see that.
“I didn’t think the course was unusually tough but you couldn’t make any mistakes,” Tapner said. “It’s Kilronan’s third four-star and he feels a different horse from last year, he’s far more mature. He does, however, tend to get on his forehand when he’s a bit tired and that’s why I took a long route near the end.”
Oliver Townend (GBR), the last British rider to win Badminton, in 2009, has jumped 30 places to fourth on the Spanish-bred Armada, ahead of Sam Griffiths (AUS), fifth on Paulank Brockagh.
Townend was emotional about his horse’s performance. “Everyone knows Armada is an amazing horse but he did, for the first time ever, feel tired by the time we got to the Quarry [fences 24-26]. However, he was such a good old horse and pricked his ears and picked up again.
“I thought it was down to myself and my own ability to get the best out of Armada. I think the course was fantastic. Giuseppe has done an amazing job. It was a fair test and a proper Badminton course.”
New Zealand’s Lucy Jackson and Willy Do also flew up the leaderboard, moving from 29th to 10th after going clear and adding 24.8 penalty points to their score to sit 15.6 points adrift of Tapner.
Dressage leader Clark Montgomery (USA) retired Loughan Glen after a refusal at the big corner in Huntsman’s Close near the end of the course (fences 22-23). Francis Whittington (GBR), lying third, retired Easy Target there, and Lucinda Fredericks (AUS), fourth, pulled up Flying Finish after fence 5.
Mark Todd and Sara Algotsson-Ostholt (SWE), who were equal fifth after dressage, both fell; Todd found himself sitting inelegantly on top of the brush box at the Shogun Hollow (11) when NZB Campino refused, while the Swedish rider had a fall at Huntsman’s Close on Reality 39.
Five withdrew after the dressage including Kiwis Annabel Wigley on Frog Rock and Caroline Powell aboard Onwards and Upwards. Wigley is opting to save her horse for the four star at Luhmuhlen in June.
“He is fighting fit and I would love to ride him round that course,” said Wigley. “But unfortunately we are out of contention for a place … I think it would be unfair on him to push him round the course.”
William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Andrew Nicholson (NZL) who were in equal seventh, both fell when challenging for the lead. Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk fell at a hedge three fences from home when going well, and Nicholson tipped off when Nereo hit the rail exiting the Mirage Pond (16). Nicholson retired his first horse Quimbo following a run-out at the brush keyhole at 13.
Peter Flarup (DEN), equal ninth after dressage, had a fall with Callista E at the spread fence before the Lake (7). Mary King (GBR), 12th, miraculously survived a sticky moment when Imperial Cavalier crawled through the keyhole fence only to have a refusal at the Mirage Pond.
Jonelle Price (NZL), 14th, walked home on The Deputy after an early run-out at the skinny brush at 5, while her husband, Tim, took a dunking in the Lake with his second ride, Wesko.
Christopher Burton (AUS), equal 20th on the Adelaide CCI4* winner TS Jamaimo, had a run-out at the Vicarage Vee (fence 15); Kristina Cook (GBR) had a glance-off at fence 5 with De Novo News and Pippa Funnell was frustrated to fall at the log at 18 when going beautifully on her second ride Redesigned.
Funnell, however, was elated with her first horse, the home-bred 10-year-old Billy Beware, with whom she is in sixth place after a masterful clear round for 24 time penalties. “He’s the first Billy Stud horse to do Badminton!” she said.
“I know it wasn’t all copybook, but I am so excited about his future. He kept digging deep and got me out of trouble a couple of times, which is the sign of a really good horse.
“I’m really, really beaming. You guys (media) put a whole lot of doubt in my head yesterday, when the first thing you all said was he’s only done one three star – is he experienced enough?! All night I’ve been thinking it’s raining, and he’s not had the mud before.
“As I said yesterday, I was going to set out with not the time in my head – I was really pleased as he’s never done the trip before and he kept digging deep. I certainly didn’t help him at a few fences and he showed me his class!”
Harry Meade (GBR), who is in eighth place on Wild Lone behind flying Dutchman Tim Lips (Keyflow NOP), was also thrilled with his day. Meade is back in action after breaking both elbows in a fall last August. “This is what I came back for, the real seat-of-the-pants stuff,” he said. “My wife, Rosie, was nervous, but I told her this is what I love doing. I’ve known my horse since he was four years old and we just got on with the job.”
Tapner, who has been based near Badminton since 2000, looks set to lift a second Mitsubishi Motors Trophy, his first victory coming in 2010 on Inonothing. However, after a day full of surprises, it’s clear that nothing is a certainty. Tapner and Kilronan have a fence in hand, but the next group of four riders are all within a fence of each other and are all equally determined to make history in Badminton’s 65th year.
Images below © Mike Bain
Results after Cross Country
1 Paul Tapner/Kilronan (AUS) 36.0 + 20.4 = 56.4
2 Tim Price/Ringwood Sky Boy (NZL) 50.0 + 11.6 = 61.6
3 Pascal Leroy/Minos de Petra (FRA) 47.3 + 15.2 = 62.5
4 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 48.7 + 14.0 = 62.7
5 Sam Griffiths/Paulank Brockagh (AUS) 46.3 + 17.6 = 63.9
6 Pippa Funnell/Billy Beware (GBR) 42.3 + 24.0 = 66.3
7 Tim Lips/Keyflow NOP (NED) 52.5 + 14.0 = 66.5
8 Harry Meade/Wild Lone (GBR) 51.0 + 16.4 = 67.4
9 Ludwig Svennerstal/Alexander (SWE) 53.2 + 18.8 = 72.0
10 Lucy Jackson/Willy Do (NZL) 47.2 + 24.8 = 72.0
Additional reporting: Diana Dobson, Rod Kohler, Colin McLelland