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The good, the Badminton, and the ugly

Mark Todd and Leonidas II.

Mark Todd and Leonidas II take a swim during the cross-country. © Mike Bain

This year’s renewal of Britain’s famous Badminton Horse Trials will in coming days be described as many things, but overall, a statistician’s dream.

Throw the formbook out the window and dissect the myriad facts and figures that make up Badminton 2014: the number of finishers, the number of clear rounds, the number inside the time, where the dressage leaders ended up, the breeds of the top 10, where the favourites finished, and so much more.

Lucinda Fredericks (Aus) and Flying Finish are in third place on 39.0.

Previous Badminton winner Lucinda Fredericks (Aus) and Flying Finish, who were in third place after the dressage. © Mike Bain

High-level riders have bemoaned the standards of international eventing in recent years, since the dropping of the so-called “long format”  of the three-day-event, which included steeplechase and roads and tracks phases.

This move changed the dynamic of the sport, and led to a different “type” of horse excelling in the competition; one who could put up an extremely polished dressage test and remain clear through the cross-country and jumping phases.

Indeed, it had not been unusual to see most of a field get through the cross-country and jumping courses without faults, meaning that some events became, in essence, were decided in the dressage arena.

And thus the sport adapted, and “dressage specialists” emerged from the pack.

Some of the sport’s “old hands” criticised the new order, accusing certain four-star events of being only up to three-star standard. Gone were the days of old when a dressage mid-fielder could rise through the ranks to the top of the heap.

Not any more.

Badminton can never be accused of being “soft”, but this year its new course designer Guiseppe Della Chiesa must have had some sleepless nights pre Saturday after masterminding an overhaul to the track. It must have been nerve-wracking on the day as starter after starter faulted or failed to complete the course.

There were some dramatic looking accidents, but so far no reports have emerged of horse or rider injuries.

Course designer Guiseppe Della-Chiesa.

Course designer Guiseppe Della-Chiesa. © Mike Bain

Organisers reported that four of the nine fences fitted with frangible pins were triggered. The pins at fences 7, the Team GBR Silver Birch, and 8, the Rolex Grand Slam Triple Bar, were triggered three times; the pin at 14a, the Gatehouse New Pond, was triggered seven times, and the pin at 15, the Vicarage Vee, was triggered twice.

That is good news for those concerned with the standards of the sport and those keeping a close eye on the incidence of accidents. These can never be fully prevented, but Badminton can be described as only a triumph in this regard.

The riders got what they wanted – a true test of horse and rider – and everyone went home safe and sound.

What it all means for selectors looking to put teams together for the upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games is anyone’s guess.

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Robin Marshall

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