April 22, South Gloucestershire, England
There is no pretense of this being an ordinary Badminton CCI****. The London 2012 Olympic Games drive all the leading riders, and for those aiming for medals, there is one horse and rider combination not competing at this year’s edition of Badminton that is the monkey on their backs.
Although the best combinations in the world can be expected to finish the three days on or very close to their dressage score, they know that this one rider and horse have raised the bar in the dressage. Therefore they have to find new levels of excellence to be competitive. The rider is Germany's Michael Jung, and the horse is La Biosthetique-Sam, winner of the individual gold in last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
So New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson, winner of the individual bronze medal at the WEG on Nereo, and today’s first rider in the dressage arena on his beautiful gray Avebury, knew what his aim was. An average of 80 percent is required. Avebury’s canter was up to scratch, but 7s for the trot work and less than fluent flying changes left him with 68 percent and a mark of 47.2.
Emily Llewellyn and Laura Collett, the two 21-year-old multi-gold medalists at the European Junior and Young Rider Championships, both showed why they are thought of as the two most exciting British young riders for many years by producing very good tests. Llewellyn scored 49.7 with Pardon Me, and Collett got very close to the magical 80 percent with two of the judges, Sue Stewart (Great Britain) and Anne-Mette Binder (Denmark), but did not quite convince third judge Christian Landolt (Switzerland). However her score of 36.5 on Rayef was still the best of the day.
“That’s his best test ever,” said a delighted Collett on learning of her score. “Yogi Breisner [the British eventing coach] told me to ride as if I was at home. Rayef didn’t make any mistakes, and he was soft and attentive. It was nice to sit on. My whole life has been about getting to Badminton, so to be here for the first time on such a good horse feels amazing."
William Fox-Pitt’s first ride, Navigator, scored 47.5. He lacked Rayef’s level of impulsion and was a little unlevel in the walk, but as usual Fox-Pitt made few mistakes and was in a very natural outline.
Behind Rayef were three typically well-prepared and experienced Germans, Marina Kohncke from Germany with Calma Schelly (39.8), Ingrid Klimke with FRH Butts Abraxxas (43.3) and Kai Ruder with Le Prince Des Bois (44.8), while the Italian rider Susanna Bordone with the Australian mare Carrera (43.0), produced a similar test. Just behind this group was the inexperienced Phoebus with Britain’s Laurence Hunt. However none of these showed the power that La Biosthetique-Sam is capable of.
"I’m still shaking,” said Köhncke. “It’s unbelievable to be back riding here again. I never thought I could do another four-star after having two children. I took Calma Schelly to Burghley, and she seemed a little shocked by it, but she’s trained so well over the winter and is such a wonderful horse that I decided to come to Badminton.”
Canada’s Hawley Bennett-Awad (50.2) began her test aboard Gin & Juice with real power and brilliance but was unable to sustain the calmness in the canter. However, few could be looking forward more to the cross-country on such a spring-loaded flying machine, and there is much to suggest that next year the dressage could be really competitive.
The remarkable 18-year-old Comanche (52.3) did his best dressage of his ninth return to Badminton with James Robinson to finish just behind Gin & Juice, while Kilpatrick River (47.7) with Elizabeth Power finished just ahead to give the Irish team something to cheer.
Mark Todd’s first ride on Major Milestone, ridden in a double bridle and looking short in the neck and tense throughout, was a big disappointment. There was also little period of suspension in the collected canter, and his poor mark of 62.0 was no surprise. However, his second ride, NZB Land Vision, is the last horse in the arena tomorrow and is probably the favorite to win this phase. A winner at the Blenheim CCI*** (England) and runner-up at the Boekelo CCI*** (the Netherlands) last year, this former Oliver Townend ride is Todd’s top horse for 2012. As a former winner at novice level of pure dressage British championships, he is perhaps the one horse to rival La Biosthetique-Sam.
In fact, the draw has put a clutch of top horses in the final group, including the four horses who were on Britain’s WEG team last year and must surely all have a very real chance of staying as a team for the Olympics: Cool Mountain with William Fox-Pitt (individual silver at WEG), Imperial Cavalier with Mary King, Redesigned with Pippa Funnell and Piggy French’s Jacarta. Not to mention Nereo and Andrew Nicholson, Oliver Townend’s Ashdale Cruise Master and 2010 Burghley winner Lenamore with Caroline Powell of New Zealand.
One thing is certain, the top of the scoreboard is set to change, and it will be tough competition for the three U.S. riders, Buck Davidson, Jennifer Wooten-DaFoe and Karen O’Connor and the two remaining Canadian riders, Selena O’Hanlon and Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch….but that’s why they are here.
The big question on everyone’s lips is how many are going to withdraw because of the hard ground. Another baking day has not helped, and riders with horses that already have the results to give them a good chance of selection for 2012 may decide to save their horses. The ground is also likely to be an increasing challenge in the dressage because the Badminton dressage is on grass, and the arena is likely to be slippery tomorrow, making the right choice of studs vital. Not having an all-weather surface is the one weak link in Badminton’s superb facilities. David O’Connor said today that he is concerned about some of the horses being able to work as freely as normal on this surface. We all hope for a little Gloucestershire rain tonight.
Top 15 After Day 1 Dressage
1. Rayef, Laura Collett (Great Britain), 36.5
2. Calma Schelly, Marina Kohncke (Germany), 39.8
3. FRH Butts Abraxxas, Ingrid Klimke (Germany, 38.7
4. Carrera, Susanna Bordone (Italy), 43.0
5. Le Prince Des Bois, Kai Ruder (Germany, 44.8
6. Phoebus, Laurence Hunt (Great Britain), 45.5
7. Mister Pooh, Niklas Lindback (Sweden), 46.7
8. Avebury, Andrew Nicholson (New Zealand), 47.2
9. Navigator, William Fox-Pitt (Great Britain), 47.5
10. Kilpatrick River, Elizabeth Power (Ireland), 47.7
11. Pardon Me 11, Emily Llewellyn (Great Britain), 49.7
12. Gin & Juice, Hawley Bennett-Awad (Canada), 50.2
13. Comanche, James Robinson (Great Britain), 52.3
14. Law Choice, Flora Harris (Great Britain), 52.8
15. Havenir D'Azac, Karim Laghouag (France), 53.5