…okay, maybe not quite that long. But it has been eleven. Whole. Sodding. Years. Since we last saw a female winner at Badminton. But the #girlpower side smashed it today, when New Zealand’s Jonelle Price and her “super meah” [sic] Classic Moet finally, finally won their first four-star.
It’s been a long time coming for Jonelle, whose storied career has seen her at the top level at the sport for well over a decade. Her relationship with the fifteen-year-old (Classic x Behemond) has become almost legendary for its consistency in speed, and they were hotly tipped as one of the favourites to challenge the time on yesterday’s fiendishly slow course. They nearly did it, too – they came in just one second over the optimum time on a day in which the average time penalties totalled a whopping 25.3, which propelled them into the lead from 22nd after dressage. Their sterling performance put them on equal footing with Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class in terms of penalties, and the pressure from the Grand Slam contender was well and truly on.
And what does pressure do? Quite often, it makes statistically probable combinations falter where they ordinarily wouldn’t. Today, defying every odd there is, we saw the exact opposite play out. Moet, who hasn’t had a clear showjumping round at an international since the latter half of 2014, stuck two fingers (or hooves) up at the detractors and jumped a clear round, giving almost every fence a hefty rattle but looking totally in control the whole way around.
“It’s almost like an elite club, the four-star winners, and it’s a club that’s eluded me for a number of years,” said Jonelle. “I’ve had some nice success, but there’s nothing quite like winning, and to do it at Badminton is very special. I thought it was never going to happen! I’m just so pleased with the mare – we never jump clear on the last day, and she tapped her way around by braille – but some dreams do come true.”
The Price family’s annual exodus to the winter showjumping Sunshine Tour contributed to the victory, sharpening up not only the pair’s performance over poles, but providing a necessary fitness boost after taking nearly all of 2017’s season off during Jonelle’s pregnancy.
“Given the lack of spring season it was instrumental,” she explained. “It went a long way in her conditioning, and in getting us ready for the season.”
“Jonelle has deserved this for a long time, and now she’s done – it’s incredible,” said husband Tim Price, who finished 12th with Ringwood Sky Boy. “I can’t say how much she works for this, especially coming back from having a baby. In the light of a competition like this, it’s an amazing achievement, but in the cold light of day, it’s a lot of work behind the scenes. The glamorous life of an eventer,” he quipped, as baby Otis gamely inserted Jonelle’s chin strap into his mouth.
The win is a dream come true, too, for owner Trisha Rickards, who has owned top-level event horses for three decades, and had yet to enjoy the thrill of winning a four-star. So, too, is it a win for the girls.
“These boys have been pushing us for years,” said Jonelle, before running off to, presumably, smash the patriarchy and close the gender wage gap. “This one’s for you, Sam Watson!” she shouted as she climbed aboard her dragon.*
*it may have happened slightly differently, we’re a bit punchy still.
Oliver Townend might have missed out on the Rolex Grand Slam, but he produced a particularly classy showjumping round on four-star first-timer Cooley SRS (33.1) to finish in second place. This makes it three four-stars in a row in which he’s finished first or second with first-timers at the level, and his Burghley winner, Ballaghmor Class (36), dropped two rails to finish in fifth place. This gave Jonelle the breathing room to have a pole and a time penalty – but she used neither.
“I hope the public understands what that horse is,” said Oliver of Jonelle’s winning mare. “I don’t think we’ll see another cross country galloper like it in our lifetime. I couldn’t keep up with it in the prize giving – it was about ten strides ahead of me, I looked down for a moment, and when I looked back up it was on the other side of the arena! I’d give anything for a foal out of it.”
Did Oliver have any regrets about so narrowly losing out on the biggest prize of them all? “I just wish I’d paid Jonelle!” he joked. “No, not at all, to tell you. I absolutely loved Kentucky, but I found this week hard work. I had to fight harder than I wanted to fight, and it didn’t look how I wanted it to look, but I’m so happy with how the horses came out of it. Especially Cooley SRS – he’s never jumped like that in his life, so god knows what that means!
“I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in Jonelle’s seat, and I know how that feels, so there’s no complaints from my end,” he went on. “I’m the biggest dreaming, most hopeful plonker you’ve ever met – I’m dreaming about taking the horses to Aston-le-Walls [one day event this week] already!”
Third-placed Ros Canter occupied a place in the press conference on each day of the competition, and although her showjumping record with Allstar B shows an enviable consistency – the pair haven’t had a showjumping penalty in an international since the beginning of 2016 – they pulled a pole to finish on 34.3.
“He was fantastic today,” she said. “I have to say, I was a little bit nervous. I think it hasn’t sunk in yet – I can be quite a doubter and quite nervous and so all week, I’ve tried to treat it like every day. As I came out of the prizegiving I realised what we can achieve and what we might be able to do. I came away thinking that I could have shaved more lines and corners; I’m still learning to keep up with him and maybe one day we can go one step higher and one step further. WEG or not, we’ll aim for another big one at the end of the year.”
Gemma Tattersall and her incredibly consistent Arctic Soul climbed and climbed throughout the week, starting out in equal 35th place after the dressage and finishing in fourth. The pair recorded one of the rare double-clear rounds today, but Gemma admits that she wasn’t expecting to.
“That is one seriously tough showjumping course,” she said after jumping around Paul Connor‘s testing track, on which she cited “turn backs, S-bends, and the downhill plank” as some of toughest questions in the cleverly-designed course, which tested horses and riders by using maximum dimension square oxers followed by short distances.
“He’s a hard-pulling horse and I think he tired himself out yesterday, which made him easier to ride today. Only the really serious showjumping horses seemed to be jumping clear, so I’m so proud of him – I didn’t expect a clear. To go double clear three years in a row – wow, he’s a serious horse.”
Mark Todd began the day with two horses in the top ten, but after pulling three rails with Leonidas II (14th) he finished with one – Kiltubrid Rhapsody, in sixth place.
“When we walked the course, we said it’s big, up-to-height, and with a funny distance from the oxer to the water tray,” said Mark. “The ground’s still a little bit holding and the horses can’t quite spring off it. I’m a little bit disappointed with Leo’s round, but Kiltubrid Rhapsody jumped his socks off. Overall, I’m really happy.”
Would it be fair to keep calling Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser up-and-comers? We suspect not, after their string of brilliant results over the past year, including fourth at Burghley and now seventh at Badminton. They finished on a score of 37.7, climbing from 13th after dressage and looking wise beyond their years across all three phases.
“He’s just phenomenal – he’s not bred with much blood, but he just jumps and jumps,” he enthused. “I get him into the rhythm and he just goes – I’m phenomenally lucky. He’s taken a long time to produce but there’s still so much to come, and I’m so excited for the future with him.”
Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky were best first-timers, finishing in eighth place on a score 38.3 after a clear showjumping round with 3 time penalties.
“He jumped unbelievably,” said Padraig, who showjumped internationally before swapping over to eventing in 2013 on his wife, Lucy Weigersma‘s, suggestion. “I didn’t feel like I could have ridden a lot faster – he’s a big-striding horse, but he has one gear, so I tried to be efficient with my lines. I’m lucky enough to have done quite a bit of showjumping so I’ve jumped in rings like that, but we did have to knuckle down. We never had a nervous moment, but I’ve been envisaging this all year – we have an amazing horse, and the dream was to finish on our dressage score if we could. I’m overwhelmed – it’s been an amazing week.”
Lauren Kieffer and Veronica were our highest-placed North American combination, finishing in ninth place on a score of 38.6 with just one rail down.
“She’s one really tough mare, and felt like she could have kept jumping for another few minutes yesterday,” she said. “Nothing really bothers her. Jumping on grass wouldn’t be her favourite, or something we do a lot of at home, so I was really pleased with her. Now we’ll go home, she’ll have a holiday, and then we’ll look ahead to the fall.”
Former champions Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW pulled two rails to finish tenth in their final Badminton together. The eighteen-year-old horse, who was won everything there is to win (besides, perhaps, the lottery) is set to step back from top-level competition, and Michi has said that this will be his final season. It’s been a rare kind of treat to witness them in action all of these years, and a joy to see them in action – and on top form – this final time. We wish Sam a very happy retirement.
Canadian duo Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High finished in 24th place after adding 21 penalties in the final phase, ticking Badminton off their own, and owner John Rumble‘s, bucket list.
“It’s so great – I got further this week than I did in 2011 with Colombo,” said Selena. “I thought I’d saved enough horse for the showjumping, but it’s never been a strong point of ours. The ground’s a bit dead in there – he started to jump better towards the end, so I was sorry to see the last pole go down.”
A surprise announcement set a poignant tone going into the final showjumping session. After withdrawing from the final horse inspection this morning, Andrew Nicholson decided to retire Nereo, walking him into the main arena one last time so he could say goodbye to his many fans.
“It was in the back of my mind to do it all along,” he said. “He’s an incredible horse – apart from Sam, there aren’t many others that go year after year and stay competitive like he has.”
We’ll be bringing you the full story – and a look back at Nereo’s amazing career – shortly. In the meantime, we say a fond goodbye to the rangy chestnut who has given eventing – and the team around him – so much joy and excitement.
That’s it for us from Badminton – stay tuned for lots of bonus content over the next few days as we slowly piece our lives and our sanity back together. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this – the description of Classic Moet, pulled directly from Jonelle and Tim’s website:
“Molly would, if she were a person, come from Swindon (or West Auckland for our NZ followers), be a couple of stone overweight, have several tattoos, wear a too-tight leather jacket over skintight leopardskin pants, have a boyfriend with an IQ of 10 who is a club bouncer, and four children by four different fathers.”
Over and out, folks. Play some Beyonce this evening and don your sassiest knickers. You deserve it.
Go Jonelle, go Molly, and GO EVENTING!