Sam Griffiths became the sixth Australian to win the Badminton Horse Trials with a superb display of horsemanship in Sunday’s final jumping phase. His win with Paulank Brockagh in the Mitsubishi Motors sponsored event, also the fourth leg of the FEI Classics series, is his first major win.
In a competition of extraordinary twists and turns, Griffiths and the Irish-bred 10-year-old, rose from overnight fifth place with a well-judged four-fault jumping round that was good enough to win due to the strong influence of Kelvin Bywater’s course.
Griffiths’ fellow Australian, cross-cCountry leader Paul Tapner on Kilronan, had been left a two-rail advantage to win but even this was too close for comfort in the squally weather and he had four fences down plus time penalties to drop to fourth.
Oliver Townend (GBR) hit two rails on the 15-year-old Armada yet moved up two places to take the runner-up spot and Harry Meade (GBR) rose from eighth to a career best of third place with an elegant four-fault round on Wild Lone.
“I had thought that if I did well I could move up, but there were still good riders in front of me and I had no expectations of being on the podium,” said Griffiths, who was well down the field in 25th place after the dressage.
“I think horses were probably quite tired after the cross-country and the course was twisty and up-to-height on fairly dead ground, but ‘Brocks’ is one tough nut. She has a massive heart,” he said of the mare he co-owns with Dinah Posford and Jules Carter.
“This is the ultimate dream. As a little boy in Australia, I used to wait for the video tapes of Badminton to arrive, so to ride here was always a major ambition. This means the world to me. Badminton is the pinnacle.”
Townend said: “I’ve told Sam to enjoy every minute of this because it still hasn’t quite sunk in that I’ve won this event [in 2009].”
He added: “I’m thrilled with my result. I was mortified after the dressage [after which he was 34th] but this has made up for it. The reason Armada is good across country is because he is tricky in the other two phases. It is a fantastic feeling to be sitting on a Ferrari like him. At certain points yesterday, I felt that this was what cross country was all about.
“It’s a very, very special place and you need exceptional horses to win at Badminton.”
Harry Meade’s third-place finish is all the more remarkable because he spent months lying helpless in hospital after breaking both elbows in a fall last August. “At the start of the week, I was beyond expectations, but somehow everything added up and I feel that I coped very well,” he said. “My arms felt fine on the cross country and I loved the fact that it was windy and wet.”
Meade, who lives only three miles from Badminton and whose father, Richard, won there in 1970 and 1982, explained: “I couldn’t let myself get too excited and today I’ve felt calm and determined to enjoy it. The last few months have rather put things into perspective for me.
“I’ve been quite calm all week because I didn’t let myself get too ambitious – I didn’t study the scoreboard or look to see what everybody else was doing – I just enjoyed it and I was really pleased with how the horse went. He did a dream test and was super yesterday. Even in the show jumping today I felt very relaxed – I thought to myself I am just going to enjoy it!”
Fourth-placed Tapner managed to be philosophical in defeat. “You start thinking of damage limitation when you hear those rails falling and I tried to change my way of riding. But that’s the way the sport is. I’ve been in both positions here before. One went my way [when he won in 2010] and this one didn’t.”
Pascal Leroy (FRA) dropped from third to fifth on Minos de Petra but still achieved the best result for a French rider since Nicolas Touzaint won in 2008. Three-time winner Pippa Funnell (GBR) held onto sixth place on the exciting prospect Billy Beware with one fence down and four time penalties.
Tim Price (NZL) had warned that jumping was Ringwood Sky Boy’s weakest phase and he dropped from second to ninth with 19 faults behind Tim Lips (NED) on Keyflow NOP, seventh, and Sweden’s rising star Ludwig Svennerstal on Alexander, eighth.
Price, 36, moved from 41st after the dressage to second going into the showjumping after notching the fastest cross country round of the day, but ended up 12.7 adrift of the winner. Before this, Price’s best efforts at a four-star event was 20th. It was Ringwood Sky Boy’s first Badminton.
Three horses were withdrawn overnight before jumping: Karascanda TSF, ridden by Karl-Steffan Meier (GER), who had leapt 61 places to 20th after cross country, Kelecyn Ice Age (Emma Douglas, AUS, 34th) and Beltane Queen (Nicola Wilson, GBR, 25th), who had been awarded 21 penalties for a broken frangible pin.
All 32 horses presented at the final horse inspection passed, including Wendy Schaeffer’s (AUS) Koyuna Sun Dancer, who was sent to the holding box. Schaeffer successfully appealed the 20 penalties given for a refusal at the Mirage Pond (fence 16). This elevated her from 26th to 18th before jumping and then she produced the only clear round of the day (albeit with three time penalties) to rise to 12th.
New Zealand’s Lucy Jackson and 13-year-old Willy Do slid just outside of the top 10 with their 84 point final score after picking up eight jump and four time faults in the showjumping.
Jackson rode her first Badminton last year, and had to withdraw Willy Do after the dressage.
Mark Todd and Leonidas II dropped the first and last fences and picked up time faults to complete Badminton with 91 penalty points in 14th place. It was the first-ever four star star for 10-year-old Leonidas.
“This reminded me a little of when I first came to Badminton in 1980 – it was a cross country test. Some of us felt that in the last few years it hasn’t become that – it was more and more of a dressage competition.” – Mark Todd
“It was great and a proper test. Hopefully the course designer doesn’t get frightened and back off too much. I loved it – it was great. It was certainly very hard work but that is what cross country at this level is all about,” Todd said.
Todd said it had been a slightly frustrating Badminton for him but he looked forward to returning next year.
Although Pau (FRA) and Kentucky (USA) winner William Fox-Pitt surprisingly played no part in the final day at Badminton, he is still the clear leader, by 15 points, in the FEI Classics. However, Sam Griffiths’ Badminton victory elevates him straight into second place and he and other riders still have chances at Luhmühlen (GER) next month to try and catch up before the series finale at Burghley (GBR) in September.
Sam Griffiths, 41, follows fellow Australians Bill Roycroft, Laurie Morgan, Andrew Hoy, Lucinda Fredericks and Paul Tapner to the top of the Badminton podium. Paulank Brockagh is only the third mare (following Emily Little in 1952 and Headley Britannia in 2007) to win.
Griffiths grew up near Melbourne riding his mother’s home-bred Welsh ponies, did a university degree in geography and went travelling, taking a job with the New Zealand Olympic champion Blyth Tait. He has been based in the UK since 1995.
His best results came with Happy Times, winner of Saumur CCI3* in 2008 and third at Badminton and Burghley in 2009. They were on the Australian team at the 2010 FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games and at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Sam and his wife Lucy live on the Somerset/Dorset border and have a young son, Ollie.
Paulank Brockagh was bred in Ireland, on a hill called Brockagh, by Frank and Paula Cullen, after whom she is named. She is a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse by Touchdown out of a Triggerero mare, and finished 15th at Burghley last year.
Images below © Mike Bain
Additional reporting: Diana Dobson, Rod Kohler
1 Sam Griffiths/Paulank Brockagh (AUS) 46.3 + 17.6 + 4 = 67.9
2 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 48.7 + 14.0 + 8 = 70.7
3 Harry Meade/Wild Lone (GBR) 51.0 + 16.4 + 4 = 71.4
4 Paul Tapner/Kilronan (AUS) 36.0 + 20.4 + 16 = 72.4
5 Pascal Leroy/Minos de Petra (FRA) 47.3 + 15.2 +10 = 72.5
6 Pippa Funnell/Billy Beware (GBR) 42.3 + 24.0 + 8 = 74.3
7 Tim Lips/Keyflow NOP (NED) 52.5 + 14.0 + 12 = 78.5
8 Ludwig Svennerstal/Alexander (SWE) 53.2 + 18.8 + 8 = 80.0
9 Tim Price/Ringwood Sky Boy (NZL) 50.0 + 11.6 + 19 = 80.6
10 Lara de Liedekerke/Ducati Van Den Overdam (BEL) 49.0 + 26.8 + 8 = 83.8
FEI Classics 2013/2014 Leaderboard (after 4 of 6 events)
1 William Fox-Pitt (GBR) 30 points
2 Sam Griffiths (AUS) 15
3 Christopher Burton (AUS) 15
4 Oliver Townend (GBR) 12
5 Maxime Livio (FRA) 12
6 Lauren Kieffer (USA) 12
7 Sonja Johnson (AUS) 12
8 Phillip Dutton (USA) 11
9 Harry Meade (GBR) 10
10 Bruce Davidson jr (USA) 10