South Gloucestershire, England—May 5
The cross-country course today at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** favored the fleet of foot, and New Zealand’s Jonelle Price and Classic Moet made an incredible move, soaring from 22nd place after dressage into the lead with a thrilling exhibition of efficient cross-country riding.
Price has been described as the fastest female event rider on the planet, and it seems that the arrival of her baby son, Otis Price, last summer has done nothing to put the brakes on. She finished just one second over the optimum time despite a heart-stopping moment in the Lake (fence 9ABC) when the mare got too close to the brush in the water and twisted in the air. However, Jonelle soon recovered her aplomb.
“I was a bit rusty and too strong—it was my fault—so we had to abort,” said Jonelle. “I had been up on the clock until then, and we were then 12-15 seconds down, so as soon as we were through the Shogun Hollow, I thought, ‘Let’s go.’
“She’s some mare, so un-special that she’s special, and she makes me look good,” Jonelle continued. “When I first got her, as a 10-year-old, I didn’t think she had enough scope, but she’s your best friend.”
The stage is set for a thrilling climax in tomorrow’s show jumping phase. Dressage leader Oliver Townend on Ballaghmor Class finished on an equal score to Jonelle—28.0—but he was further away from the 11:45 optimum.
Townend will be double-handed in his bid to become the third rider to secure the Rolex Grand Slam, as his second ride, Cooley SRS, currently lies in fifth.
“Two horses in the top five is pretty good,” said Townend, the master of understatement. “Five years ago, I kept saying to people that I had some really exciting young horses coming through. Three years later people kept on asking, ‘Are they still coming through?’ I’ve had both these horses from 4-year-olds, and it’s taken a long time to get them here, but I’m glad they have turned out as talented as I thought they would.”
However, Townend used his whip repeatedly as he landed off the fences and in the galloping lanes toward the end of the course with both horses. The ground jury interviewed him regarding this behavior and gave him an official warning regarding his over-use of the whip. Officials stated that the horses would be checked very carefully on Sunday morning at the horse inspection to ensure they were fit to compete in the show jumping phase.
Townend later made an official statement about his behavior on cross-country:
“Having watched my Badminton cross-country rounds for the first time when I got home last night, I’m so disappointed and upset about the way I rode. It didn’t look good, and I don’t want to look like that,” he wrote.
“I fully accept the warning I received from the ground jury. My competitive instincts got the better of me, and I will work hard to improve in this area.
“I try really hard to give my horses the best ride possible—I try to be as fit as possible, to be as light as I can be, to sit as still as I can, to get them on the best strides and take-off points to minimize the energy they have to waste. I care enormously about their wellbeing and their welfare.
“I feel I have let my amazing team down. I am aware of my position in the sport and of my responsibility to be a suitable role model to younger people, and I apologize to them.
“I love my horses—I live for them. I am extremely proud of all four horses—Ballaghmor Class and Cooley SRS, and the two who went so brilliantly at Kentucky, Cooley Master Class and MHS King Joules—and of every horse on my yard.”
Check out this video of some of the top moments from cross-country.
Other standouts from the day included British rider Ros Canter and Allstar B, who finished third on a score of 30.3.
Canter’s round was a brilliant exhibition of bold, attacking riding coupled with precision and great care. Her 6.4 time penalties were just about as fast as anyone managed in the morning.
“This was probably the first time he’s had to really dig deep,” said the 32-year-old. “Last year [when they finished fifth] I had a dream ride and everything happened really easily. Today he was more tired than he had been before, but he still dug deep. He was unreal over the technical fences. When I jumped the Vicarage Vee I was thinking, ‘This ought to feel big,’ but he just stepped over it.”
The ever-brilliant Michael Jung and La Biosthetique-Sam FBW are within striking distance of the leaders in fourth place on a score of 30.7.
They survived a heart-in-mouth moment at the Outlander PHEV Mound (fence 14) when a misjudgment at the first corner left Jung clinging on like a limpet.
“The gallop downhill changed the balance, and perhaps I trusted him a bit too much,” said Jung. “I was nearly out; it was very close. You could have had a mistake anywhere out there, but that’s what cross-country riding is about. You need care from the first to the last [fence].”
Mark Todd, the oldest rider in the field at 62, has two horses in the top 10. Kiltubrid Rhapsody lies sixth and Leonidas II 10th.
U.S. rider Lauren Kieffer lies seventh with Veronica (34.6), while Canada’s Selena O’Hanlon is in 17th (42.8). Madeline Backus parted company with P.S. Arianna at the Lake (fence 9). Will Coleman had a run-out with OBOS O’Reilly there and retired two fences later.
“Not our day today here at Badminton,” posted Coleman on his Facebook account. ” ‘Oboe’ did not feel himself and never really got into gear on the XC. We had a runout at the difficult C element of the Lake, jumped the next couple, but decided it was not meant to be. Extremely bummed, but rooting my fellow North Americans on for the rest of this weekend. Oboe is fine and happily munching his haylage at the moment.”
There were 44 clear rounds from 77 starters over Eric Winter’s 32-fence course. Huntsman’s Close (fences 6ABC) put paid to several leading contenders’ chances, including previous winners Pippa Funnell (Billy Beware) and William Fox-Pitt (Fernhill Pimms), who both ran out at the tricky third element.
Redpath Ransom, ridden by Alexander Bragg, suffered a catastrophic injury while galloping between fences and was euthanized later in the day.