It’s an Australia one-two at the end of the first day of dressage, May 3, at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in Gloucestershire, England.
Christopher Burton and Sam Griffiths lead the line-up with Holstein Park Leilani and Happy Times, respectively.
“Holstein Park Leilani is not an extravagant mover, so I have to ride for every mark. I came here thinking I’d be happy scoring in the mid-40s, so I’m really pleased to be sitting here,” said Burton.
Of Sunday’s cross-country challenge Burton said, “It’s Badminton. It’s big. There’s a lot of jumping out there, and I think the cumulative effect of having so many big jumping efforts in the second half of the course will take its toll.”
Sam Griffiths was pleased with Happy Times’ performance.
“I made a few mistakes out there, and we threw away a few marks,” he said. “Happy Times has traditionally been a good cross-country horse, so I hope that if we can keep in touch with the leaders after tomorrow’s dressage we’ll be in the mix come Monday.”
Rolex Grand Slam duo Andrew Nicholson (Avebury) and William Fox-Pitt (Oslo) are lying handily in third and equal fourth places on 45 and 45.8, respectively. Germany's Michael Jung rode Leopin FST into sixth (46.5). All three riders will pilot their second mounts tomorrow.
Both Nicholson (New Zealand) and William Fox-Pitt (Great Britain), who are head-to-head in a thrilling battle for the Rolex Grand Slam this weekend, seem to be handling the intense media attention with equanimity. Listen to an interview with Nicholson and with Fox-Pitt.
“I’m not really thinking about the Grand Slam,” admitted Nicholson. “My main objective has always been to win Badminton, and it’s been fixed in my mind since last year because I’ve got such a good string of horses at the moment. The Grand Slam is a bit of a dream, but I did go to Kentucky to put myself in contention for it.
"And, of course,” he laughed, “if I win Badminton, the Grand Slam will fall into place!”
Fox-Pitt is currently only 0.8 of a penalty adrift of Nicholson, in equal fourth place with Ireland’s Aoife Clark on Master Crusoe. His first ride, Oslo, winner of Pau CCI**** (France) as a precocious 9-year-old in 2011, is owned by a syndicate of 12 owners, the oldest of whom, Delia Cunningham, is 92.
“He’s good at dressage, and he’s always on your side, but he can be a bit cheeky,” said Fox-Pitt of the French-bred gelding who spent last year sidelined with an injury.
The footing at Badminton is in perfect condition and predictions are that quite a few riders will achieve the optimum time, but riders are regarding the fences with great respect.
Nicholson commented: “I thought it was a bit softer at the start until I had a second walk, and I’ve realized there are some very tricky fences out there. At the Lake (fence 9), there’s is a big fence in and really quite difficult 120-degree turn. It’s a proper fence, as it should be at this level. The course is pretty decent all the way round. There’s open corners, the Mirage Pond (fence 14) is hard to judge because you’re not sure where you’re going to land, and at the Shogun Hollow (fence 18) there’s a long distance to the third box which will cause difficulty for horses that find it difficult to adjust their strides.”
Badminton has received unprecedented spectator interest this year, and ticket sales are about 10 percent up on last year, when the event had to be cancelled due to wet weather. There are 84 horses in the field representing 15 nations.
Director Hugh Thomas, who says his cross-country course is “the strongest it’s been for a while,” said of the line-up: ”For those of us who have been involved in the sport for a long time, to have Fox-Pitt versus Nicholson versus Jung is a tasty dish. However, the reality is that there are actually about 15 combinations here who could win.”
First into the arena at 9 a.m. local time tomorrow morning for the second day of dressage will be Lauren Shannon and Zero Flight. U.S. rider Clark Montgomery rides Universe at 9:32 a.m., while Colleen Rutledge goes at 10:12 aboard Shiraz. Great Britain-based U.S. rider Tiana Coudray rides Ringwood Magister at 2:44 p.m.
Read the full results online.