South Gloucestershire, England—May 3
Oliver Townend further strengthened his claims to this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton trophy when he pulled off an exceptional dressage test on Friday afternoon on his second ride, Ballaghmor Class, to leave him in first and second places at the end of the first phase at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s 2017 Land Rover Burghley (England) winner couldn’t quite catch his stablemate Cillnabradden Evo, who still leads on a score of 19.7, but a mark of 21.1 was still an eye-wateringly impressive achievement under great pressure.
“You’re always hopeful, but we don’t really have plans,” said Townend. “I was hopeful for them to do a good test, hopeful for them to put their best foot forward, hopeful for me not to cock it up, but I couldn’t be happier at this stage.”
No other rider has been in this position in Badminton’s history and only one rider—Ian Stark—has ever finished first and second. But it would be a brave man to bet against the on-form Townend to match this feat.
“Everyone expected so much of Ballaghmor Class after he won Burghley, but he was quite a novice when he did that; he was still learning flying changes,” said Townend. “Now he feels like a well-established horse who is beautiful to ride.”
When asked who trains him on the flat, Townend replied, “Embarrassingly, I don’t actually have a trainer. I have a good set of mirrors, and I watch a lot of Carl Hester DVDs—so it’s not actually me you’re watching!”
Watch an interview with Townend after his dressage, courtesy of Badminton:
Tom McEwen has been nudged down into third place with Toledo De Kerser. They lie on a score of 24.7 going into tomorrow’s cross-country phase.
“Toledo is fit, fresh and ready to run,” said McEwen. “Having spoken to other, more experienced riders, the course is always tougher when it runs this way round, but I think the optimum time [11 minutes 45 seconds] should be achievable. [Competing at Badminton] is what we work so hard for every single day, and it’s such a privilege to even be here.
Piggy Fench and Vanir Kamira slip one place to fourth.
“I have walked the course a couple more times and have a few more plans in my head than this time yesterday,” she said.
The other notable performance in this afternoon’s session came from Pipa Funnell and five-star first-timer Billy Walk On, who squeezed into the top five with an expressive performance that left them on a score of 26.5.
“I’m really delighted with him,” she said. “He’s been beautiful all week, and so I was worried that I might have underdone the work, but he took it all in his stride.”
There are only two U.S. riders at Badminton this year after Tamie Smith withdrew Wembley from the hold box after they discovered an abscess. Jenny Caras is competing in her first Badminton, with Fernhill Fortitude, and they scored 36.9 for a tie for 53rd going into tomorrow’s cross-country.
“His changes were quite good I thought,” Caras said. “A little bit tense in there, which kept it from getting the top scores, but I was really happy with the changes.
“He definitely noticed [the atmosphere], so I was happy with him all in all; he held it together, and he wouldn’t have been in anything like that before,” she continued. “It’s different for us being on the grass because we don’t get much practice with that in the States, so it’s just putting it all together and getting better as we go.”
Caras, 23, is thrilled to be competing at her first Badminton.
“It’s just a dream come true really,” she said. “I always watched it as a kid and even up until this year, thought ah I’d like to go to Badminton, so to actually be here is just surreal, so I’m enjoying it all the time.”
The other U.S. representative, 23-year-old Savannah Fulton riding Captain Jack is in 80th after “Captain” was visibly tense throughout his test to score a 51.1. This will be their fourth five-star outing, after completing the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event twice and starting at Burghley in 2017.
Tomorrow’s cross-country is sure to be interesting, with Eric Winter’s 33-fence course.
“I think when you complete it, if you jump all the straight ways, you’ll have a true, proper cross-country horse because they have to brave enough in places; they have to be very adjustable; they have to stick on a line; they have to be rideable, responsive,” Winters said. “You can’t ride something around here that’s yanking at the rein, and similarly you can’t ride something here that’s very obedient but not very brave. It has to fit into all packages. That’s this five-star level. At the lower levels it’s about education; at the five-star level it moves into examination. It actually looks at how well trained those horses are, how good the relationship is between the horse and the rider and whether they can answer the questions, and there’s a lot of questions out there, and they come up very quickly.”
For the full dressage results, click here.