“She’s some mare,” said Jonelle Price after her blazing fast round on Classic Moet. And some mare she most certainly is – statistically the fastest in the field, ‘Molly’ was the horse that everyone was looking at to try to make the optimum time. She didn’t, quite – she finished just a second over, to add 0.4 penalties – but on a day in which the average time penalties worked out at a whopping 25.3, this was no mean feat. To give you a sense of scale, the average expected time penalties at Badminton over the past ten years – including the last wet year in 2014 – is 15.1.
As predicted, the time was the main factor throughout the competition, which almost every combination posting slower-than-average times and several prominent pairs coming to grief in the influential middle of the course. The ground proved difficult, too, although it defied expectations by improving marginally throughout the day. In a dramatic change of tone the sun, too, made an appearance, with the still heat causing horses to tire more quickly. None of these factors seemed to affect Classic Moet.
“She’s so unspecial that she’s very special,” said Jonelle. “She’s so quick that she makes me look good – I’m dreading the day she retires and people realise it’s all her! The partnership is so cemented – she trusts me. I got her as a ten-year-old and did a two-star on her at Hartpury and I thought, ‘I just don’t know how fast she’s going to be.’ But she’s proved me wrong, and she’s like a best friend. She wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea – she has a pretty peculiar way of going.”
This is Jonelle’s first full season of competition back after taking break to have baby Otis, and while she was out, ‘Molly’, too, took a break. Anticipation of some rustiness lead to Jonelle changing her plan at the Lake, going long after an uncomfortable jump at the B element and putting herself down on the clock.
“My reservation was that I was a bit rusty and she was a bit rusty. We did very little this last year, so that was always in the back of my mind. I was too strong and had to abort mission before the C element, so I was up against it the rest of the way and trying to catch up. But when I came through the coffin I thought, ‘come on, let’s go now, let’s make up the time!’ There were high expectations that we could come close.”
Dressage leaders Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class came in at 18 seconds over the optimum time, putting them on the same score as Jonelle and Classic Moet but moving them into second place, as tie-breaking at this stage is decided by proximity to the time. The Burghley-winning horse looked as though he tired considerably in the latter third of the course, but he continued to jump well, putting Oliver in the strong position of having two horses in the top five. Both Ballaghmor Class and his earlier ride, Cooley SRS, added 7.2 time penalties to their dressage scores. Talk about consistency.
“When Ballaghmor Class turned away from the stables, he pretty much told me he’d had enough,” said Oliver. “He dug deep – the ground was terrible, and I weaved and looked for better going but it wasn’t there. On Cooley SRS, it was easier to find it, but the course felt like a bog from the gates almost all the way back up. But Ballaghmor Class just kept jumping and cantering from fence to fence, and of course he got tired – it’s a long way round in a tacky bog. He’s green still and he just puts too much effort in at this stage – it’s very sapping giving everything a foot in four inches of mud.”
First-day dressage leader Ros Canter and Allstar B impressed again today, adding 6.4 time penalties to their first-phase score of 30.3 to sit third going into tomorrow’s competition.
“You had to work for it, but he just gave me such a good round,” she said. “I’m just so proud of him – up until today he’s found life really easy and this is the first time he’s really had to dig deep and he just kept fight for it. What a star – he never even looks at the crowds; when he’s out there he’s really focused.”
Fourth place overnight is held by former winners Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW, in what is projected to be the horse’s final Badminton. They produced one of the fastest rounds of the day, adding just 2.7 time penalties, despite an uncharacteristic wobble at the Outlander PHEV Mound, where the horse left a leg.
“The gallop downhill to the corner changed the horse’s balance and caused the mistake – I think I trust him a bit too much, and it’s still an upright fence, and it was a bit close,” reflected Michael. “You can have a mistake anywhere but that was a bit abnormal – but that’s how cross country is, you have to have to ride from the first to last fence. That’s very important. But it’s just nice to sit on him and enjoy him sometimes.”
It was Sam’s consistency, and his relationship with Michael, that allowed them to push on and catch up on lost time.
“When you gallop into the finish and you ask the horse to go forward and he can do it, that’s really nice. It perhaps wasn’t the nicest round – the course was good but the ground made it difficult. He loves what he does and he loves cross country, so to gallop forward is the best thing for him. You need, in the end, power on the course.”
Michael felt that the ground conditions needed consideration going forward: “In the future, we need to work more on the ground at important competitions so it’s fair on everyone, the first rider to the last rider.”
Mark Todd was another rider to finish the day with two horses in the top ten, holding sixth place with Kiltubrid Rhapsody and tenth place with Leonidas II.
“I had a really good ride – as good as you can expect on a course like this,” he said after his round on Kiltubrid Rhapsody, in which he was held in the middle of the course. “The little break about halfway around helped a bit, as he was getting a bit tired. It probably didn’t do him any harm, anyway, as he’d started to feel a bit laboured up the avenue. They had water at the hold, but it didn’t really cool him off.”
In both rides, Mark had a close call at the Savills Escalator, but managed to avoid his bad luck of Burghley last year, in which he fell from Leonidas after the horse stumbled on landing in a combination.
Lauren Kieffer and Veronica defeated their demons of last year, in which accumulated time penalties knocked them out of contention for a top spot, by adding just 14 seconds on the course. They sit in 7th place going into showjumping.
“She was super,” said Lauren. “The ground’s a bit boggy in places, but she felt full of running at the end. We’ve been in Florida, so this is cool weather for her, and she’s such a tough little mare, and she wants to jump. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder from last year, when I was pretty slow, and she’s an experienced mare so I thought I’d come back and give it a go. She’s also super fit, and it’s nice that because we’ve been in Florida, she hasn’t missed events like people have over here.”
Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul climbed from 35th to 8th place after an incredibly quick round put just 4.4 time penalties on their tally. The Thoroughbred horse was one of the favourites to produce a fast clear, and he didn’t disappoint.
“He was tired, actually – it just takes so much manoeuvring, and he’s such a hard-pulling horse, so he wears himself out a bit,” Gemma said. “With the heat, the holding ground, and the lack of runs, I had to scrub a bit! But he’s so genuine and just keeps jumping. He’s so strong, but he’s also amazing – a real machine.”
Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy may have contested Rio, but he’d never competed at a true four-star. Today, he ticked that box with Mr Chunky, finishing the day in 9th place.
“It’s a great feeling – he’s a lovely horse,” he said. “The plan was to go direct when we could, as he’s such a brave and good jump. We had a bit of a hairy moment at the first water but once he realised he could jump he was fine. If he can see a way between the flags, he’ll go. He’s a big-striding horse, so you can see a stride from a mile away.”
Padraig credits wife Lucy, nee Weigersma, for producing the horse and providing the support that has allowed him to climb to such a lofty height since switching from showjumping to eventing in 2013.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d go around Badminton – you can’t achieve it without experienced people behind you. It’s a big relief to get that box ticked. I have to give all credit to my wife – she still does all his fitness work. Without this support system, I couldn’t do it.”
Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High helped realise a long-held dream for owners John and Judy Rumble when they went clear today, adding 16.4 time penalties to sit in 17th place overnight.
“He loved it – he took me everywhere and his ears were pricked the whole time. I made things a bit more difficult a couple of times – I made some angles too difficult but he just listened to every tug of my reins or kick I gave him,” Selena said.
We were sorry to see Madeline Backus and PS Arianna fell at the last element of the Lake, but were up and walking away within seconds. Will Coleman and OBOS O’Reilly came to grief at this question too, running out at the final element before retiring.
The Lake at 9ABC proved the most influential effort on course, with eight pairs faulting at some point in the combination. Huntsman’s Close, the second combination on course, saw six pairs rack up costly errors. Fan favourites Piggy French and Vanir Kamira, as well as Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift, began the day in the top ten but each suffered elimination – Piggy fell at the Hildon Water Pond, and Jonty dismounted and retired after Cooley Rorkes Drift misjudged the final element of the Eclipse Cross Pond, ending up stick between the front and back bars of the wide oxer.
It was confirmed at the end of competition that Oliver Townend had received a yellow card from the FEI. We’ll bring you the story shortly.
We were also devastated to learn that Alex Bragg‘s talented Redpath Ransom suffered a catastrophic suspensory injury whilst galloping between fences 27 and 28 and was subsequently euthanised. Our condolences to all of this wonderful horse’s connections.
We’ll be taking a look tomorrow morning at how the best-placed riders might fare going in the final phase, as well as bringing you everything you need to know from the final horse inspection.