“This is the ultimate dream. As a little boy in Australia, I used to wait for the videotapes of Badminton to arrive, so to ride here was always a major ambition. This means the world to me,” said Sam Griffiths of Australia after winning the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI****. “Badminton is the pinnacle.”
Griffiths produced a superb display of horsemanship in the show jumping phase to win his first major title with Paulank Brockagh, the mare that he co-owns with Dinah Posford and Jules Carter.
In a competition of extraordinary twists and turns, Griffiths and the Irish-bred 10-year-old rose to the win from overnight fifth place with a well judged four-fault jumping round.
Griffiths’ fellow Australian and the leader after cross-country, 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 hit two rails on the 15-year-old Armada yet moved up two places to take the runner-up spot and Harry Meade rose from eighth to a career best of third place with an elegant four-fault round on Wild Lone.
The sole U.S. finisher, Tiana Coudray on Ringwood Magister, finished in 25th place with two rails on the final day after picking up two refusals (one for missing a flag) and 25.6 time penalties on cross-country.
“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.”
Sam Griffiths, 41, is the sixth Australian to win Badminton (following Bill Roycroft, Laurie Morgan, Andrew Hoy, Lucinda Fredericks and Paul Tapner), and Paulank Brockagh is only the third mare (following Emily Little in 1952 and Headley Britannia in 2007).
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 United Kingdom since 1995.
His best results came with Happy Times, winner of Saumur CCI*** (France) in 2008 and third at Badminton and Burghley CCI****s 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.
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].”
Twownend 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.”
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 3 miles from Badminton and whose father, Richard, won here 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.”
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 of France 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 of Great Britain held onto sixth place on the exciting prospect Billy Beware with one fence down and four time penalties.
Tim Price of New Zealand had warned that show jumping was Ringwood Sky Boy’s weakest phase and he dropped from second to ninth with 19 faults behind Dutchman Tim Lips on Keyflow NOP, seventh, and Sweden’s rising star Ludwig Svennerstal on Alexander, eighth.
Three horses were withdrawn overnight before jumping: Karascanda TSF, ridden by Karl-Steffan Meier (GER), which had leapt 61 places to 20th after Cross Country, Kelecyn Ice Age (Emma Douglas, AUS, 34th) and Beltane Queen (Nicola Wilson, GBR, 25th), which had been awarded 21 penalties for a broken frangible pin.
All 32 horses presented at the final horse inspection passed, including Wendy Schaeffer’s Koyuna Sun Dancer, which 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 3 time penalties) to rise to 12th.
Although Pau CCI**** (France) and Rolex Kentucky CCI**** 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 (Germany) next month to try and catch up before the series finale at Burghley (Great Britain) in September.
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