William Fox-Pitt, one of the best riders never to have earned the coveted Mitsubishi Motors Trophy at the Badminton Horse Trials, Gloucestershire, England, fulfilled a lifelong ambition on April 29-May 2. Riding Irish-American owner Mary Guinness’ Tamarillo, he took the win.
Fox-Pitt, 35, finished fourth the weekend before Badminton at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, riding Ballincoola. The British Olympic Association considers him one of their half-dozen gold-medal hopes in Athens, but the 12-year-old Anglo-Arab Tamarillo, was not, prior to Badminton, actually qualified for the Olympics.
As torrential rain flooded the Duke of Beaufort’s beautiful Badminton Park and half the first 20 horses failed to complete the cross-country, Fox-Pitt became increasingly reluctant to saddle up. He had already retired his first ride, Moon Man, the horse he rode into third place at Rolex Kentucky in 2003.
“As I was wandering home on Moon Man, I wasn’t even going to start Tamarillo. But I talked it through with Yogi Breisner [team manager] and Lucinda Green [chairman of selectors], and I realized that there was no other qualifying opportunity [before Athens].
“I owe Lucinda a lot; she told me to crack on and not just pootle around for a qualification,” he added. “Thank God I did. I had a perfect ride; Tamarillo jumped every fence exactly as I had dreamt it the night before.”
Fox-Pitt could only afford 36 cross-country time penalties for the Olympic qualification, and riders were easily averaging 40 in the mudbath, the result of four days’ ceaseless downpour. But he managed to finish with just 21.6 penalties.
Riders threw out their watches and concentrated on conserving horses’ energy. New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, normally the most accurate timekeeper, had to be sanguine about losing the four-point dressage lead he held over Fox-Pitt. Riding the firm ground specialist Lord Killinghurst, the horse he brought to Rolex Kentucky in 2001, Nicholson showed all the cross-country skills for which he is famous to nurse his weary mount home clear with 28.4 time penalties.
“He gave me 110 percent,” Nicholson said. “But my first horse Flush Banker normally gallops through mud, and I realized after about one minute on him that it would be a slog.”
Highs And Lows
Britain’s Bumble (Marie-Louise) Thomas enhanced her selection chances when she rose to third place with a polished all-round performance on The Psephologist and scored a career best. She ran across country when conditions were at their worst but scored one of the fastest times.
“Like everyone, it’s my dream to get to the Olympics, and I hope that this will have impressed the selectors,” she said.
Longlisted Brit Sarah Cutteridge, who placed 12th at Kentucky this year on Future Perfect, enjoyed a dream debut with eighth and 10th places on The Wexford Lady and Exclusive Imp, but her colleagues on the British longlist fared less well.
Only a brave man would have bet on defending champion and 2003 Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing victor Pippa Funnell falling off both her horses at the same fence, an upright gate into Huntsman’s Close in the closing stages of Hugh Thomas’ track.
After her first ride, where the stallion Viceroy trod on her wrist, Funnell was flown to the hospital for a check-up but came back keenly competitive to ride her dressage runner-up Cornerman. Unbelievably, though, he made a carbon-copy mistake at the same obstacle and eradicated Funnell’s dream of a hat-trick.
Leslie Law, a silver medalist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics (Australia), was decanted in the famous Badminton Lake by Shear H20; Tina Cook, whose Irish-bred Captain Christy is a mudlark, fell off when he slipped and jinked between the A and B elements of the penultimate Rolex Turn fence. And Caroline Pratt’s ride on her new mount Call Again Cavalier ended with a fall in Huntsman’s Close.
Polly Stockton’s run of bad luck