South Gloucestershire, England—May 5
As Oliver Townend’s second ride Ballaghmor Class rolled a pole late in the show jumping course for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials you could feel the tension rise. He had one pole in hand going into the final phase but not two. And while he could afford a couple of time penalties, any more than three seconds over his fellow countryman Piggy French would take the win with Vanir Kamira.
And as Townend turned the last fence, French actually turned away, believing she’d missed out on a five-star victory once again. And then the clock went red as Townend exceeded the time allowed, picking up 1.6 time penalties. And suddenly, the victory was hers.
“It’s something I’m very much not used to,” said French. “To be honest I actually can’t believe it; I won’t believe it for a while. My whole state of mind—I think today I woke up thinking maybe I could, but as soon as I walked the course I thought not a chance. Time was tight; there were so many related distances, so many lines that really wouldn’t be her sort of track. And we were definitely getting lower and lower as it went on, and I kept hearing rattles but no noise from the crowd, so I was like we must still be there.
This is French’s 25th attempt to win a five-star. She was fourth after dressage on a 26.0 and moved into second after a fast cross-country round, adding just .8 time penalties to move into second. With a double clear show jumping performance, she finished on a 26.8, just a fraction head of Townend’s final score of 27.1.
“I think it was very, very close in the end and unlike him with the time faults, but hey it’s our day,” she said. “It’s these little horses that make it for us. Actually, she’s a pain in the ass 362 days a year, and she’s really tricky to manage. She’s not the nicest of things to ride; she’s difficult to manage; she’s a difficult thing, and she’s amazing. I say it fondly because I love her to bits, and she’s a true [five-star] horse that comes to form for Badminton and Burghley [England], and the rest of the time she can feel pretty ordinary, and you have to work very hard for all you can get, but she doesn’t find any of it easy.
“if I built that course at home and practiced it in the same size arena I could do it 50 times and never have a clear round,” French continued. “There’s something about her, and those great little mares that just do enough when they need to, and if they’re on your side—she’s just incredible. It’s a complete fairytale to be honest.”
Townend also took sixth with Cillnabradden Evo, the horse he broke the Badminton record with in dressage.
“The two horses were amazing all week, he said. “They’re exceptional horses; the black horse [Cillnabradden Evo] especially I don’t think anybody within the sport ever thought they’d see him come through the finish flags at Badminton and to finish sixth is incredible. The grey horse [Ballaghmor Class] is an out and out superstar and still only 12 so has a lot of time left.
“Sometimes [things] go your way, sometimes things don’t and this one by a quarter of a second didn’t,” he continued. “It’s a big class and a big prize to lose by a quarter of a second, but at the same time you know, I had a lot of luck throughout the week and a lot of luck last week in Kentucky. Second doesn’t feel as good as first, but it’s still very good at this event.”
Australia’s Chris Burton was third and forth with Cooley Lands and Graf Liberty.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “I’ve had a wonderful week really, and I’m very proud of the two horses. I’m very grateful for the owners and the ride on the horses and onto the next one.
“I haven’t had a very good run at Badminton, so it’s been a little bit of a bogey man for me, but I’m stoked that they went this well,” Burton continued. “I try to tell myself in the lead up not to get nervous; it’s just another event, but it is a special event, and I’m delighted to go so well.”
The sole U.S. finisher, Woodge Fulton took 53rd with Captain Jack after having five rails and picking up 1.6 time penalties to finish on 116.3.