Gird your loins, chaps: the countdown is ON to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited — not least because this year is a special one. 2019’s competition is the 70th anniversary of the inaugural Badminton, and since its first running in 1949 the sport, the venue, and the characters within this epic story have changed and evolved significantly. To celebrate 70 years of brilliant Badminton, we’ll be bringing you an extra-special inside look at the event and its rich and exciting history every week from now until the competition begins on May 1. Consider the archives your own personal Gringotts, and EN your loyal goblin sherpas.
We know you’ve been rationing out your lunch breaks for the Big One, that infamous hotbed of madness that is the annual form guide, and we shan’t hold back on you any longer. Here’s your 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials field, and everything you need to know about each and every last one of them, brought to you in partnership with Voltaire Design. See you on the flip side, gang.
Is there anything more exciting than the long-anticipated release of the Badminton entry list? Nothing quite decides the end of winter like it – when it goes live, eventing fans across the globe can be spotted, lumbering out of their dwellings like oddly excitable bears to look, to tweet, to discuss, and to analyse.
And analyse we most certainly have done. Despite some technical malfunctions at Eventing Nation’s UK HQ, Chinch and his team of rodent brethren have been hard at work crunching the numbers and digging out the fun facts. What fun they are, too – in the sultry depths of the form guide, you’ll discover which competitor works as a stunt rider for Game of Thrones, which entrant first had the ride on Arctic Soul, and which stallion enjoys an astonishing dominion over the entry list with five own sons entered.
As always, the form guide will be constantly updated to reflect additions from the waitlist, as well as significant changes in form as we head into the last couple of prep runs before the big day. Keep it locked onto EN, and let us know in the comments who your money’s on this year!
Clare Abbott and Euro Prince
Sixteen-year-old ISH gelding (Lougheries Quiet Man x Miss Tullydraw). Owned by John and Cormack McKay.
Longtime partnership Clare and ‘Sparky’ are one of those pairs that’s just great fun to watch across the country, purely because they always look as though they’re really, truly enjoying themselves. But they come to their fifth Badminton with plenty of experience under their belts, too — they made the step up to five-star (then four-star) in 2014, making their debut with a very creditable 24th place finish. Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength, despite facing separation when the horse was entered into the Goresbridge sales. Their best five-star result was ninth at Pau in 2015, and in 2017 they produced 14th and 13th place finishes at Badminton and Burghley, respectively.
Their 2018 Badminton didn’t quite go to plan, with a surprise horse fall at the Bullfinch just five from home. They had a quiet season thereafter, running at Mallow CCI4-S in June with an uncharacteristic 20, and starting, but withdrawing after dressage from, Millstreet’s CCI4-S in August. Clare, who balances eventing with working part-time as a maths teacher in a secondary school, has ridden her sixteen-year-old Rio partner for eleven years, and though they can certainly be competitive, neither has anything to prove. We’ll be watching their prep run at Burnham Market CCI4-S with interest to see how they’ve started 2019.
Hanna Berg and Quite Survivor – FIRST-TIMERS
Fourteen-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Quite Easy x Flickan). Owned by Mathilda Berg.
It’s a real family affair for Sweden’s Hanna Berg and her top horse, who was bred by Hanna’s mother Anette and is owned by her little sister, Mathilda. Known as Little-Man at home, the gelding is an out-and-out showjumper with a heart of gold, and throughout the process of producing him, Hanna has found him brave and wise enough to tackle any challenge she’s offered him. Now, she hopes, that scope and sensibility will help to guide them both around the biggest test of their lives.
In order to prepare, Hanna and Little-Man have made the (temporary) big move from their family farm in Sweden to Austin O’Connor’s Attington Stud, which, based as it is on the cusp of the Cotswolds, offers the perfect setting for them to do their crucial final fitness work and fine-tuning. They’ll be working with trainers Fredrik Bergendorff and Yogi Breisner to help them realise the dream that Hanna has held onto since her very first event back in 2004.
This isn’t just a Badminton debut, but a five-star debut too for both Hanna and Little-Man, who have racked up some impressive rounds – they were clear at Aachen, Bramham, Boekelo, Strzegom, and Houghton in 2018, and have only had two cross-country jumping faults across their thirty-one internationals. They’re not the speediest across the country, but they won’t need to be – their goal as first-timers will be to complete without faults, proving they deserve more team appearances.
Merel Blom and Rumour Has It NOP
Sixteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Esteban xx x Onara). Owned by Merel Blom.
This enormously experienced pairing can boast two WEGs, an Olympic Games, two European Championships, and six five-stars together. This will be their fourth Badminton — their best result here was thirteenth in 2014, and they come into 2019’s edition off the back of a sixteenth place finish at last year’s WEG, representing the Netherlands. To say he came out of Tryon feeling well is, perhaps, an understatement: Merel tried to give her horse a well-deserved holiday, but had to cut it short when he expressed his displeasure by ‘exercising’ himself in the paddock every day.
Merel events alongside studying for her Masters in tax law at the University of Rotterdam, which I assume is just as jam-packed with adrenaline as her sport of choice. I don’t know for sure, mind you, because I didn’t do anything as sensible as go to law school, and now I write about horses for a living. Either way, she’s one of the Netherlands’ most successful riders and the enormously brave Rumour Has It has been a spectacular horse for her. While they won’t compete for the very top spots, they’ll aim to climb the leaderboard after posting a low-30s mark and will likely sit in the top twenty.
Alex Bragg and Zagreb
Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Perion x Renera). Owned by Phillip and Sally Ellicott.
There are some horses who just set you to dreaming — somehow, they manage to open the floodgates and make their staggering trajectories a communal effort, something owned and coveted as much by the fans as they are by the rider and the team surrounding these brilliant animals. Tall, dark, and impossibly hunky Zagreb is one of those horses. When he made his Badminton debut in 2017 with the enormously likeable family man Alex in the irons, he stopped being “that nice-looking bay in the collecting ring” and immediately became something to take very seriously indeed, despite – or perhaps, even because of – the fact that he didn’t complete. Though the pair were sitting in fifth place after cross-country, Alex opted to withdraw his top horse before showjumping, spotting that he wasn’t feeling 100% himself and that there would be bigger things to come for the Dutch-bred gelding, known at home as Rhett. Yes, like that Rhett. Ugh, delish, right?!
Since then, Alex and Rhett have enjoyed top ten finishes at Aachen, Gatcombe, and Blenheim, as well as Pau five-star in 2017, a win in 2018’s Jardy ERM and third at Blenheim CCI4-L, and another clear around Badminton, though 40 time penalties and a knocked pin proved expensive. They took a tumble at Burghley but recovered well to perform beautifully at Blenheim, and Alex, who excelled in mounted games as a child and then started a successful farriery business, is a firm crowd favourite. Many are putting their money on him and Rhett to take this year’s title, and this fantastic partnership will certainly offer up a jolly good show while they try to do just that. A six-run average of 27.5 (and a five-star dressage average of 30.2) should put them well in contention, but they’ll need a quicker run than last year to challenge. On the final day, they’re pretty reliable – in two of their three five-star completions, they’ve jumped clear.
David Britnell and Continuity – FIRST-TIMERS
Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Contender x Mensa I). Owned by rider.
This will be a second CCI5*-L for David and his best mate Brad, who made the long journey south to Pau for their debut last season. It was well worth the 50-odd hours spent in the lorry – they finished tenth, climbing up the leaderboard after two impressive performances in the jumping phases. Now, they’ll face the biggest challenge of their lives – but it won’t be their first time contesting Badminton. David is set to be the second rider ever to compete at both the Badminton grassroots championship and the five-star – Ben Way has already done so, competing at the former in 2011 and the latter for the first time in 2015. But this will be the first time someone does both on the same horse, and they’ll certainly be hoping to replicate the performance that earned them 5th place in the BE100 championship here in 2013.
David, who is a BHS Senior and UKCC 2/3 Coach, has been working hard on the first phase over the winter: he and Brad scored a 33.2 in the OI at Tweseldown despite some first-party-of-the-year exuberance. They’ll be aiming to be in the upper half of the pack after dressage – with their six run average of 33.1, it’s just about doable. Then, they’ll be well set up to go and enjoy their first spin around Badminton proper – if Pau is anything to go by, they’ll have great fun tackling Eric Winter’s smorgasbord of challenges.
Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet
15-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Balou du Rouet x Onassis Queen). Owned by Brett Bullimore and Christopher and Susan Gillespie.
The consummate heartbreaker, Reve du Rouet is the sort of guy you’d match with on Tinder knowing, even through the brain fog of that third glass of Savvy B, that for better or for worse, this one would change your life. For a while, you’d imagine he’s changing it for the better – he’d show up unannounced with your favourite takeaway, looking sickeningly handsome with his crooked grin and slightly-too-long hair. He’d make you feel like he really got you, and he’d know lines of Pablo Neruda poems by heart, which is either lovely or incredibly cringe-worthy, depending on the sort of person you are. Then, you’d be sure he’s changed your life for the worse when, fuelled by his commitmentphobia and one too many whiskeys, he’d call you a very rude name in a bar and end up snogging some girl you’re pretty sure you sat behind in high school Trigonometry. Eventually, he’d grow up and get over himself and settle down with you, but he’d never quite lose the air of sheepishness for having been such a committed knobhead once upon a time. But you’d love him nonetheless.
That’s Reve du Rouet all over – gorgeous, crazy talented, and sometimes, well, just plain crazy, he’s spent years putting us all on the edge of our seats wondering which side of the Jekyll and Hyde coin we’d be given today. His flightiness is down to a genuine fear of crowds, which has seen his tension boil over dramatically in the past but – dare we say it? – seems to be under control these days. This is largely due to some seriously tactical riding – Sarah sneaks most of his schooling into her hacking and fast work, so he never realises the pressure that’s being put on. As a result, he finished his 2018 season with a first-phase PB at Burghley, posting a 27.3. That beat their previous PB of 28.5, delivered the previous season at Pau, and on both occasions, he backed up his impressive starts: he finished second at Pau by just a tenth of a point and was fourth at Burghley. Sarah, who has compared her partnership with ‘Blou’ to that of a battered wife, will be hoping to match her clear cross country of Badminton 2018 with a slightly faster time (and another one of those stunning tests) – then, it’s just a case of not taking two poles as a souvenir.
Chris Burton and Cooley Lands
Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Cavalier Land x Clover Light Girl). Owned by Kate Walls.
Cooley Lands sizzled his way into our collective consciousness in 2017 when he won the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class on his debut at the level. Not only did he take an easy victory, finishing on his dressage score of 28.4, he did it having been produced and competed almost solely by owner Kate. He was also the only horse to make the time, and he did so by finishing an impressive four seconds within it. When he sauntered into the prize giving, he looked as though he knew he belonged there – and since then, he’s enjoyed a fitting career trajectory.
He was eighth at Boekelo shortly after that Blenheim win, and spent much of the 2018 season contesting CCI4-S competitions with both Kate and Chris. Then, he got the big call-up: he represented Australia in Tryon. Although it was very much a competition of two halves for him – he scored an impressive 28.6 in the first phase, but was one of several good horses to have a run-out at the water – it’ll be interesting to see how the experience has shaped his education. This could be a very, very good first-timer, or Chris could opt to run him slowly. Remarkably, even the fastest man in the world knows when to take his foot off the gas.
Chris Burton and Graf Liberty
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Lisheen Star).Owned by the Graf Liberty Syndicate.
We last saw the experienced Graf Liberty at Badminton in 2017, when he posted an impressive dressage score of 21.9 – the best we’d seen in fifteen years at the event. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be his weekend — he picked up 20 penalties at the skinny log coming out of the Hildon Water Pond, scuppering his chances of a win.
We’ve seen him in three Event Rider Masters leg since then, and he’s not been out of the top three in any of them – those were Blair and Blenheim in 2017, and Blair again in 2018, which he won despite the, um, ‘trying’ conditions. It would be easy to dismiss him as a short format specialist, but he finished fourth at Luhmühlen in 2015 — okay, it’s not quite Badminton, but we know the ability is in there. Expect a competitive first-phase performance and, based on the form of the last eighteen months, a Saturday to remember.
Ellen Cameron and Hanleen Crown Jewels – FIRST-TIMERS
Thirteen-year-old British-bred Sports Horse mare (breeding unknown). Owned by the rider.
It’s a first Badminton – and, indeed, first five-star – for both Ellen and her mare, who she’s produced through the levels herself. They’ve enjoyed clear rounds over the last couple of seasons at Blenheim, Blair, Houghton, Burgham, and Barbury, although their first-phase score tends to put them out of contention – they’re upper-30s to low-40s scorers. They ran into a couple of problems last season, resulting in a rider fall at Chatsworth and an elimination at Barbury, but they know one another well, and they’ve proven they can be reasonably quick, too. Their goal for this year will be an educational completion – then, armed with new knowledge, they can aim to be competitive at their next five-star appearance.
Jesse Campbell and Cleveland
Twelve-year-old KWPN gelding (Watermill Swatch x Rielone). Owned by Kent Gardner and rider.
The lanky, handsome Cleveland will be attempting his third five-star here: he went to Pau in 2018, but it didn’t quite go to plan: Jesse opted to retire him after a couple of issues on course. Earlier in the season he went to Luhmühlen, but fell on course. To head to Badminton now is a bold choice, but the horse is plenty talented – he’s been eleventh, fourth, and fourth in his last three four-star (former three-star) runs. His record is a bit chequered, so expect to see an educational – rather than a competitive – run. If he conquers this track, Jesse could find himself sitting on a horse with an enormous amount of renewed confidence.
Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude – FIRST-TIMERS
Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Misty Matilda). Owned by the Fernhill Fortitude Syndicate.
Jenny is the sole US representative currently off the wait list, and she and her long-time partner ‘Forty’ will be hoping for a repeat of their success the last time they came to the UK, when they finished ninth in the Bramham under-24 CCI4-L in 2016.
Jenny bought Forty from Ireland in 2011, where the then-seven-year-old had done some showjumping but was yet to tackle his first event. Since then, they’ve gained an enormous amount of experience together, culminating in their first ever win – national or international – in Bromont’s CCI4-L in 2018. They made their five-star debut at Kentucky in 2017, and although they retired on course, they’ve had a string of promising results since then (including that Bromont victory, which certainly counts as something more than ‘promising’!). This season, Jenny is basing herself and Forty with World Number One Oliver Townend, so she’ll have set herself up well to go into Badminton with the best possible preparation. They’re likely to hover around the low thirties after the first phase, and their showjumping can be a bit hit-or-miss, but they’ll be here to storm around the cross-country in true (pseudo) Irish fashion.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that Forty shares a sire with some notable five-star horses of recent years – Ringwood Sky Boy, Ballaghmor Class, the Duke of Cavan, and Cooley Rorkes Drift are all Courage sons.
Sebastian Cavaillon and Sarah d’Argouges – FIRST-TIMERS
Thirteen-year-old Selle Français mare (Quite Easy I x Uranie des Halles). Owned by Michel Lancelot.
Successful five-star debutantes abounded for the home front at Pau in 2018, and Sebastien and his stunning Selle Français mare were no exception. They’ve been partnered since 2013 and moved up to CCI4-L in 2015, so they’ve gotten to know one another well over the challenge of the level.
And there have been a few challenges – they’ve had a few 20s, have been spun at two horse inspections, and they’ve had a horse fall and a showjumping elimination, too. But they’ve also had their successes – they’ve finished ninth at Saumur and tenth at Haras du Pin. That all came together just in time to allow them to finish 15th at their first five-star last season, although they were one of several combinations whose last-minute change of plans at the influential combination near the end of the course almost looked like a run-out.
Caroline Clarke and Touch Too Much – FIRST-TIMERS
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Imperial Heights x Touch of Dutch). Owned by rider.
We last saw Caroline and her best pal Possum in an international at Blair Castle CCI4-L last August, where they withdrew before showjumping after a 20 across the country. This came as a bit of a surprise to everyone – Blair has been a pretty happy hunting ground for the pair, who won the CCI3-L there in 2016 and finished third in the CCI4-L in 2017. Otherwise, they had two four-star (then three-star) top twenties in 2018, including one in the tough Bramham Under-25 class, so they should be well set up to contest their first five-star this spring.
Caroline has produced her top horse while studying dentistry – interestingly, she didn’t keep Possum at university with her, so an enormous amount of dedication (and mileage) went into making both dreams happen. Although Possum isn’t, perhaps, the archetype of a classic event horse, he’s a good jumper and should lodge a completion this year. Then, it’s onwards and upwards from there.
Laura Collett and Mr Bass
Eleven-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Carrico x K-Jeunesse). Owned by Keith and Louise Scott, Nick and Lyn How, and the rider.
It feels like we’ve been waiting for this moment for years, doesn’t it? Mr Bass – known at home as Chuck, after his Gossip Girl namesake – was entered for Badminton last year, but Laura opted to withdraw him as he wasn’t feeling 100% in the lead-up. Then she – and we – were dealt another disappointment when the freakishly talented young horse wasn’t called up for the WEG at Tryon. All’s well that ends well, though – in his five internationals in 2018, Chuck only finished outside of the top five once. On that occasion, he was ninth at an early season CCI4-S at Belton. He won the Nations Cup CCI4-S at Houghton in May and then went to his first five-star at Luhmühlen. There, he made a joke of the entire level, skipping around as though it was a Pony Club rally, and finishing second on his dressage score of 29.9.
Impressive results indeed – and those are just less than one season’s worth – but what is it that makes the former seven-year-old World Champ one of the most talked-about horses in eventing? Basically, he’s an FOD machine, the likes of which we’ve seldom seen before. He’s finished on his dressage score in just shy of 60% of his 22 international completions, which, when you consider the calibre of competition he’s been entered in, is pretty astonishing. He’s started his season on form, too: he finished second in an OI section at Lincoln after delivering a dressage score of 22.5, and finished fourth in the extremely competitive Grantham Cup CCI4*-S at Belton, too. Yummy stuff indeed.
A fun, if slightly irrelevant fact: Chuck is one of two ‘Mr’ horses entered. Padraig McCarthy’s Mr Chunky is the other. Two horses competing with the same level of formality have won at this level – those were Mr Smiffy and Mr Cruise Control, who both won five-stars with Andrew Nicholson. The ultimate Mr Man.
Tina Cook and Billy the Red
Twelve-year-old German Sporthorse gelding (Balou du Rouet x Simply Red). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch and Keith Tyson.
British team stalwart Tina has three horses entered – her third, Calvino II, is 22nd on the waitlist currently. The West Sussex-based rider is one of the most experienced in the field, and she comes from good horsey stock, too – her brother Nick is a leading racehorse trainer, while her father Josh was Champion Jockey on four occasions and her mother, Althea, was a top showjumper. She’s competed at two Olympics, five World Equestrian Games, and seven European Championships, and basically, we are not worthy.
Billy the Red, for his part, stormed around the WEG last year as the Team GB individual, finishing in ninth place after he added just 2.4 time penalties to his 29.1 dressage. He also finished fourth at the 2017 European Championships, and will likely be campaigned with another team appearance in mind later this year. He’s a funny thing, really – his eventual selection for Tryon was met with some controversy, largely because he went through a phase of being seriously unpredictable in the first phase. He posted a 40 at Aachen and then, less than two weeks later, won Hartpury after putting a 25.6 on the board. His six-run average is 30.4, but his early-season runs at OI and AI have seen him sit right around the 28 mark. If he comes out ready to play nice between the boards, he’ll be formidable – he’s never been out of the top ten at five-star level, and that streak should continue.
Tina Cook and Star Witness
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Witness Box x Drive On Rosie). Owned by Jim Chromiak, Bridget Biddlecombe, Shaun Lawson, and Mr and Mrs Nicholas Embiricos.
The second entry from Tina Cook is Star Witness, a horse who was bought as a three-year-old, unbroken sales project – who never left. Now, he’s got five five-star completions under his belt, and he’s finished in the top ten in four of them. The fifth was Burghley 2018, where he finished eleventh, delivering one of the only double-clear cross country rounds of the day to climb spectacularly.
This is what Star Witness does best – he might not be the most flash dressage performer, but like Mr Bass, he’s astonishingly good at finishing on whatever he delivers on the first day. He’s only notched up 12 cross-country time penalties in internationals since the middle of 2016, and he’s FOD’d twice at Burghley and once at Badminton. That was in 2016, on his only other trip here – he finished seventh, and could certainly go better if Tina can eke a couple more marks out of him in the dressage. He’s the archetype of a horse who benefits from last year’s scoring revision.
Interestingly, he suffers from kissing spines – but with careful management from Tina and her team, it obviously doesn’t slow him down at all. Tina, for her part, has been happy to discuss this publicly – she hopes, quite rightly, that his success might persuade people to work a bit harder on improving their ‘throwaway’ horses.
Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury
Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Olympic Lux x Tell Me Sunshine). Owned by the Luxury Syndicate.
Experienced campaigner Cooly comes to Badminton with a, well, unique accolade – he’s the proud owner of perhaps the most-lauded trotters in the biz. That is to say, he’s won the Best Shod Horse prize at Burghley in three of his five appearances there. At Badminton last year, farrier Jim Hayter installed heart-bar shoes without clips, while at Burghley, he wore straight-barred shoes with clips. The more you know, pals.
Burghley has been a real specialty for this very good cross-country horse, and he’s finished in the top twenty there a couple of times. His best five-star result was eleventh there in 2014. Last year, he enjoyed his first Badminton completion, winning Tom the Laurence Rook trophy for being the highest-placed British rider who hadn’t completed Badminton before. A bit of a mouthful, but they finished nineteenth.
Despite his seventeen years, Cooly has begun his season looking – and feeling, by all reports – remarkably well, finished twelfth in a hot OI at Tweseldown, eleventh in an AI at Great Witchingham and 12th in an enormous field in Belton’s CCI4*-S Grantham Cup. Ordinarily, we can expect a low-30s score from Cooly at the five-star level, but he delivered a very creditable 30.8 here last year, and retained firefighter Tom will be riding high on the wave of confidence delivered by his end-of-season success with stablemate Liberty and Glory, so expect him to eke out every spare mark his old friend has to offer.
(Incidentally, if you fancy a piece of the Cooly pie, there’s a final space in the syndicate remaining – so you could go to Badminton as an owner, if you move quickly!)
Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory
Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Caretino Glory x Little Runnymede xx). Owned by Robin and Patricia Balfour and Sophie Crisp.
Liberty and Glory, or Lori, is our dark horse pick of the week: she is, after all, quite literally a dark horse. But she’s also one of those classic, feisty little mares, fuelled by rage and opinions, and frankly, her first-phase performances don’t even MATTER when she produces the goods on Saturday. We saw her at her very best at Pau in 2018, where she climbed an absolutely ridiculous 54 places to finish sixth, delivering an emotional five-star best for Tom.
Lori is truly a family horse, ridden by a family man: she’s out of a full Thoroughbred mare who Tom’s wife Sophie competed through Advanced, and Sophie’s parents Robin and Patricia not only bred the mare, but continue to part-own her. The Crisp family at large – including sons Hugo and Harry, and new baby Hermione – can be seen out in force at events, with everyone chipping in. Hermione, who was only born in January, doesn’t have an official role yet, but we imagine it won’t be long before she’s pinching the ride on her dad’s mega mare.
Born on the fourth of July and given a patriotic moniker to match, Lori probably won’t dazzle in the dressage – her six-run average is a 37.1, although Tom has been working hard on her flatwork this spring. It’s Saturday that’ll really have you paying attention – despite the fact that she spent her early years enacting elaborate protests that included lying down in start boxes, 16hh Lori is yet to face any course she considers difficult. Her penalties at her five-star debut at Luhmühlen came as a result of enthusiasm and a subsequent genuine inability to get herself to the next element. Watching her take on Eric Winter’s course will be as fun for fans as it is for the mare herself.
Millie Dumas and Artistiek – FIRST-TIMERS
Fourteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Numero Uno x Lilian NW). Owned by Ellie Guy and the rider.
Marvellous Millie rode fifty cross-country rounds in 2018 and didn’t fault in a single one of them – in fact, she’s the only Brit to do so last season. We’ve not seen her at this level in a while, but she’s not a debutante – she rode around Luhmühlen in 2014 with Action Packed, finishing 31st. The year prior, she partnered Artistiek, or Artie, around the Young Rider European Championships and finished 20th.
Though Millie has since been out of the very topmost echelon of the sport, she’s certainly not been slacking – she competes a broad string of talented horses through the four-star (formerly three-star) level, and she’s earned herself a reputation for producing a seriously well-educated horse. One example? The Duke of Cavan, ridden by Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa. That’s a Millie horse, and he’s done alright for himself.
Artie enjoyed a couple of trips to Ireland last year, and successfully – he notched up top-ten finishes in CCI4-S classes at both Tattersalls and Millstreet. In fact, in his six full runs at both national and international levels, he was never out of the top 20. He’s been a consistent mid-to-high 20s scorer in the first phase, so expect a good performance here, and a clear round with 20 or so time. He’s not necessarily the fastest horse, but he and Millie have more than proven themselves over some seriously tough tracks in the lead-up to their biggest ever.
Isabel English and Feldale Mouse
Seventeen-year-old Connemara/Thoroughbred gelding (Glenormiston Praise x Zoe). Owned by the rider.
24-year-old Isabel hails from Biddaddaba on Australia’s Gold Coast, and you should probably know that I misspelled that town name FIVE times before I finally got it right. Now, I’m weeping into my keyboard, the red autocorrect squiggle on my screen dancing mockingly in my tears.
Anyway, my impending emotional breakdown aside, Bella and Mouse should be a fun combination to keep an eye on this year. Isabel was one of those child prodigies who had to (impatiently) wait for her eighteenth birthday to arrive so she could pop a five-star entry in as soon as possible – that entry ultimately led to a twelfth-place finish at Adelaide. The next two years, again riding Feldale Mouse, she finished eighth. Apparently bored of kicking ass and taking names at Adelaide, she and her Connemara x Thoroughbred moved to Europe to be based with some guy called Michael Jung, who I guess runs some sort of academy for kicking ass and taking names? Await confirmation, dear readers.
The pair have tackled thirteen internationals since the move in 2016, and they’ve finished in the top 20 nine times. They’ve tackled another five-star, too, although that didn’t go quite to plan – Isabel took a tumble at Pau in 2017. But they’re a strong cross-country combination, and pretty impressive in the final phase, too – it’ll be a mid-to-high 30s dressage that stands in their way, but we could see this scrappy duo climb. Bonzer, Kumpel.
William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire
Ten-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Graf Top x Heraldiks Angara). Owned by Jennifer Dowling and the rider.
Lanky Will has totted up a fair few successes in his time – he was the last British rider to win Badminton, for one, taking the top spot aboard Chilli Morning. Beyond that, he’s the only rider to have won five of the world’s six five-star events (Adelaide, for obvious reasons, has eluded him, but we reckon Isabel English would probably come up with a suitably devious plan to get him over there and make it all six). He’s won Burghley an almost ludicrous six times, has had to find somewhere to store 22 medals, and is three-time World number one and seven-time British number one. Phew. Most importantly, though, he breeds Frizzle chickens, which are CHICKENS THAT GROW THEIR OWN TROUSERS and also FUNKY, FUNKY AFROS.
This chicken-fanciers’ website describes Frizzle chickens as “quite the glitzy girls” with “frizzled plumage and short, erect bodies”, and if you want to try to tell me for even a SECOND that this is not the quality content you’re here for, then you’re a dirty great big liar. Not at all like a Frizzle chicken, which is “docile and gentle” and “not just the next starlet to fall from grace”(???).
Anyway, Long Tall William is back with two rides this year (though presumably no chickens). Little Fire will be making his second appearance at a five-star after a seriously smart cross-country round at Pau ended just a few fences from home with a really unlucky rider fall. Known as Aiden, the ten-year-old really impressed at Tattersalls CCI4-L last summer, too, taking second place amid hot competition.
Aiden posted a 30.5 dressage at Pau, and we should expect to see the same, roughly, again – he tends to be in the high 20s at four-star, but five-star is that touch harder, and there’s an atmosphere to contend with, too. Then, we’ll have to just hope for the quality of that Pau round, without the unfortunate addendum. The horse is certainly capable, and we guess the rider probably is, too.
William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II
Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Oslo Biats x Cinnamon Brulee). Owned by The Oratorio II Syndicate.
Naughty Rio really came good at Blenheim last year, where he so narrowly missed out on the win in the enormous CCI4-L class to Bella Innes Ker. William Fix-Pott (as my totally non-horsey college boyfriend called him) joked about being one of the old-timers at the event, a competition he first contested eighteen years prior, and affably accepted defeat at the hands of Bella, very much a ‘young gun.’
“Most of the field wasn’t even born when I first rode here,” he laughed. More importantly, though, it was at Blenheim that we got our first hints that Rio might grace us with his presence at Badminton. Out of a racing mare and by William’s former five-star winner Oslo, Rio is “absolutely blood, and he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hard’ in any phase, on any day, ever. It’s exhausting at my age,” William went on. “I’m quite looking forward to the day when he says, ‘right, okay, let’s go onto the bridle a bit now!’ At my age, I quite like them to purr around a bit, but he’s a double handful. Sometimes the ‘woah’ can take 25 strides!”
But for all that, Rio had a great season, which included finishing eleventh at Bramham. His two rails there were costly, and they’ve been a pretty regular occurrence – William told us at Blenheim that on his day, the horse would eat Badminton up, but he could still be a heartbreaker on Sunday. With his high-20s dressage and a gallop that’ll make your mouth water, he’s certainly one to keep a very close eye on, whichever way he goes.
Piggy French and Vanir Kamira
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Camiro de Haar Z x Fair Caledonian). Owned by Trevor Dickens.
We can’t help but feel that Piggy is almost due a five-star win by now. After all, she’s been fifth and second at Burghley with the marvellous Tilly, and her performance at Tryon with Quarrycrest Echo was a joy to watch from beginning to end. She’s one of those riders, too, who you just hope you don’t end up in a section with at a one-day – not because she’s not lovely (she is!), but because you know she’ll walk away with every single rosette on offer. She’s just, well, rather good.
Fittingly, this year is the Chinese year of the pig, and it could well be the year of the Pig indeed. This pair were eliminated here last year after an incredibly unfortunate tumble in the pond, but they narrowly missed the win at Belton a few weeks prior. It’ll be very interesting to see how they run there this year – they, and basically everyone else on this list, will be fighting it out for the Grantham Cup CCI4-S. Piggy will also be running another notable entry – her WEG mount Quarrycrest Echo will use Belton as a prep run for his big trip to Kentucky next month.
Previously piloted by Paul Tapner, Tilly is one of those horses we talk about with real veneration, despite the fact that she’s not yet had a major win. In this way, she’s a lot like Jonelle Price’s ‘supahmeah’ Classic Moet, who, until last spring, had cruised her way into living legend status without a title to back it up. We can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time before this indomitable mare follows in Molly’s footsteps and takes a big one.
Pippa Funnell and Billy Beware
Fifteen-year-old British-bred Sports Horse gelding (Kannans Gold x Dollar Day). Owned by Jonathan and Jane Clarke.
It’s set to be a vintage year for Pippa Funnell – and, indeed, for Pippa Funnell fans, who were delighted to see their hero return to Badminton last year. This year, she’s got four horses entered, of which she’ll be able to run two. Billy Beware was initially waitlisted, but has made it onto the accepted entries.
This will be a third Badminton for the gelding, who is a product of Pippa’s Billy Stud sport horse empire. He first competed here in 2014, finishing sixth, but he then missed the entirety of the 2015 season and the majority of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, too. He returned in 2018 and began his week with an impressive 25.7 dressage, but was then retired across the country.
Billy Beware is a reliable low-to-mid 20s performer in the first phase, and a consistent showjumper, but Saturday will be the big question mark for him. He’s certainly talented – that sixth-place finish proves that – but his lack of match practice won’t help him. He didn’t run in the latter half of last season, but has produced two clear national runs this spring.
Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On
Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Billy Mexico x Shannon Line). Owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw.
The first-ever Grand Slam winner is back with a bang, with three horses entered for this year’s event. Billy Walk On is a product of Pippa and husband William’s breeding enterprise, the Billy Stud, which has become something of an assembly line for top-class eventers and showjumpers.
This is to be Billy Walk On’s fifth season eventing – he won his first ever international back in 2015, and through his two- and three-star (formerly one- and two-star) career, he was pretty much unbeatable. Then he had some slight learning curves – and a spate of withdrawals – in his first season at four-star, but his 2018 season relit the candle we’ve long held for this stunning horse. He was fourth in the CCI4-S at Hartpury, 14th in Bramham’s CCI4-L, and second in the insanely competitive Chatsworth CCI4-S, which is widely regarded as a great indicator of a horse’s ability to cover the ground across the country. His season finished on a bit of a duff note when he picked up 20 penalties at Blenheim, but he’s since come out and skipped around his first OI of the season to win, so he’ll be interesting to watch in his bigger prep runs. He’s certainly turning into a classic Pip ride in the first phase – most of his scores begin with the magic ‘2’.
Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street
Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (OBOS Quality x unknown dam).Owned by Jonathan and Jane Clarke.
The Clarkes are long-time owners for Pippa and their daughter, four-star rider Chuffy, has long been mentored by Pip. MGH Grafton Street, who was sourced and produced by Padraig and Lucy McCarthy, certainly looks to be another exciting venture for them, and Badminton will be his first five-star – if he’s chosen as one of Pip’s two rides.
MGH Grafton Street is picking up a bit of a reputation for his prowess between the boards – his six-run average is 26.6, and his lowest score internationally last season was a seriously impressive 23.7 at Houghton CCI4-S. Unfortunately, he’s also prone to the occasional 20 – he had one at that Houghton, and he notched one up at Belton last season too, although many more experienced horses ran into the same problem after an impossibly wet spring. He was sixth in Blenheim’s CCI4-L last year, and fifth the year before, so he certainly is capable – but in his biggest event yet, we could see the wheels just slightly come off the bus again. Either way, he’ll probably be in the top five after dressage – hell, he could even lead – and if he’s feeling on top form come Saturday, we could be in for a classic display of Funnell fortitude. And that, my friends, would be a great treat for us all.
(For those of you wondering, the MGH prefix stands for Mullenaglough – that’s the name of the village in which Padraig grew up in County Tipperary.)
Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope
Twelve-year-old gelding (Porter Rhodes x Brown Sue). Owned by Marek Sebestak and the rider.
“I’m not the bravest rider in the world,” confessed Pippa after storming around Burghley last year. You could’ve fooled us, Pip – that Burghley track was probably the biggest we’ve ever seen, and to blitz around it with just 4.8 time penalties was nothing short of miraculous.
Admittedly, his Burghley result somewhat defied expectations – he had been twelfth at Tattersalls CCI4-L earlier in the season, and eighth at Barbury the year prior, but we hadn’t yet been truly dazzled. Of course, to discount him would be to admit a loss of faith in the ability and rationale of his rider – and as committed fans of the Funnell, we wouldn’t dare. Though he doesn’t have quite the first-phase scope of his stablemates, we can probably dare to hope for a dressage score slightly lower than the 35.2 he delivered at his five-star debut. After all, he posted a 25.5 at his season debut at Tweseldown. Then, we’ll be hoping for another Burghley-style clear – if he can deliver once again, he’s in with a great shout in the final phase. He only toppled one rail, nationally or internationally, in 2018.
Will Furlong and Collien P 2
Twelve-year-old Oldenburg mare (Carentan x Compita). Owned by the Acorn Syndicate.
It’ll be a second Badminton and fourth five-star for 23-year-old Will and ‘Tinks’, who he bought from German eventer Josephine Schnaufer in 2016. Their first attempt last year might not have gone quite to plan – they finished 43rd after clocking up 49.2 time penalties and tipping three rails on the final day. But they jumped clear around the formidable cross-country track, and Will, who has been the under-21 national champion, the under-25 national champion, and a double gold medalist at the Young Rider European Championships, is no dummy. He’ll have been planning for the future with his talented but tempestuous mare.
Unfortunately, the rest of the 2018 season was a bit of a let-down for Will and Tinks – they withdrew before the second horse inspection at Haras du Pin, and Will took a tumble across the country at Waregem. At Pau, the pair’s second five-star, Will put his hand up after a couple of issues. They ran well but slowly at their season opener at Poplar Park, and they’ll be heading to Belton to skip around the Advanced, as they did last year, before running in the CCI4-S at Burnham Market. That extra bit of prep could make all the difference – last year, of course, we saw Burnham Market fall victim to the horrific spring weather.
Ciaran Glynn and November Night
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Bonnie Prince xx x Coolnalee Kate). Owned by Susanna Francke and Peter Cole.
Named for the rather boozy November night on which she was bought at Goresbridge sales, Ciaran Glynn’s talented mare has never had a cross country jumping penalty in any of her four five-stars so far. Her best result came at Burghley last year, when she finished 14th after adding just 7.2 time penalties and a single rail to her dressage score of 33.6. At Badminton she was rather slower and finished 25th, but the time and the showjumping had both improved considerably from 2017, where she finished 36th. That final phase is still a bit of a pesky one, though – they ordinarily have at least one rail. After that impressive round at Burghley, we may be about to see November Night on her best form yet – and with the European Championships looming, a peak performance could spell big things to come.
Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro
Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Metropole x Colleens Touch). Owned by Merna Merrett, Catherine O’Connor, and the rider.
15.3hh Splash may be one of the smallest horses in this year’s field, but that’s never slowed him down before — he’s already notched up completions and Badminton and Burghley. That Badminton completion last year was actually Simon’s first, too – he’d made his debut at this event in 2016, but until last season, it looked like Burghley was a far more favourable five-star for him.
Splash was originally produced through the Novice level by Debbie Edmundson, the Suffolk-based rider and dealer with whom Simon worked after leaving school. She sourced the horse from Vere Phillips, and in 2014, he and Simon partnered up, culminating their first season together with a trip to the seven-year-old World Championships.
Expect a 35 to 37 dressage and a slow clear across the country from this pair. They’re pretty reliable in the final phase, but do occasionally have one down.
Sam Griffiths and Billy Liffy
Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Billy Congo x Shannon Line). Owned by the Viscount and Viscountess Jonathan and Claudia Rothermere and the rider.
Produced by Liv Craddock, ‘Whiskers’ made the step up to five-star in 2017 at Burghley. Liv had had the horse from a five-year-old – at the time, she was helping the Billy Stud’s Donal Barnwell to produce some young horses, and she mentioned she was on the lookout for a nice prospect for herself. Two weeks later, Donal dropped Whiskers off at her yard for her to try.
She wasn’t impressed – at 16.3hh, he was oversized, and he had a mean buck on him. But Donal told her to keep trying. So she did, and then decided to sell him anyway, but nobody – not even Pippa Funnell, who had been deposited on the ground by the horse in a four-year-old class – would have him. So Liv kept him, despite being bucked off in the dressage at his first intermediate, and clocked up a number of impressive results, including a team silver at the Strzegom Nations Cup in 2017 and sixth in Bramham’s under-25 CCI4-L in 2016.
They didn’t make it around that first Burghley – Liv put her hand up on course, and their week ended early. But they finished their partnership with a clear round at Blenheim, and then former Badminton winner Sam took the reins in early 2018. This will be their first five-star together after a season of getting-to-know-you hiccups – they were eliminated in an OI at Bicton and a CCI3-S at Barbury, but they rounded out 2018 with a clear at Boekelo. Sam won’t be riding to win at Badminton, but will be looking at the week as an essential element of Whiskers’ ongoing education.
Louise Harwood and Balladeer Miller Man
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Stormhill Miller x Kintara Pride). Owned by Alli and Ian Haynes.
Harwood is known for piloting her homebreds around the upper levels, but Balladeer Miller Man bucks the trend. He was bought as a four-year-old from Ireland, but nonetheless, he grew and grew to fit in with diminutive Harwood’s stable full of oversized stars.
Miller’s 25th place finish at Burghley – his five-star debut – capped off a great 2018 season for the horse. He had jumped clear around Bramham’s CCI4-L and finished twelfth at Camphire CCI4-S in Ireland, proving his considerably ability. He’s finished in the top five at Blair Castle CCI4-L, too – that’s generally considered one of the toughest competitions of the level, and it’s a real test of fitness.
Expect a high-30s dressage, which will be off the pace competitively. That said, this pair should go clear across the country – and they totted up a creditable 18.4 time penalties at Burghley which, all things considered, isn’t bad for a first-timer. On the final day, they’re prone to a few rails – as many as six, in the case of Barbury last summer.
Alicia Hawker and Charles RR
Twelve-year-old AES gelding (Verdi TN x La Di Dah). Owned by Robert Hawker.
This will be a third five-star for Lici and her top horse Charles, who made their level debut at Pau in 2017. There, they finished 37th after a slow cross-country with a 20 – but that was a year in which it was practically a victory to even finish. Then they went to Badminton last year, where they notched up another 20 and finished 49th. They’ve certainly got the goods at the four-star level – their career-best result is third in Bramham’s Under-25 CCI4-L – but it’s not quite come together for them at the top yet. The goal this year will be to add a clear round to their resume – notions of competitiveness can wait for now.
Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy
Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by the rider.
This promising pair made their five-star debut last season at Pau, rounding out the top twenty with a 34 dressage, a clear cross-country with 28.8 time penalties, and a clear showjumping round with two time penalties. They began their 2019 season proper by finishing 32nd after two clear rounds and with just 11.6 time penalties across the country. It was their 40.1 dressage that precluded them from placing any higher – this has historically been a bit of a tricky phase for them.
MGH Bingo Boy was sourced from Padraig McCarthy’s Devon sportshorse empire, and Nicky has produced him from the (former) one-star level, taking over the ride from Megan Cummings. They went to the CCI3*-S Europeans in 2017, finishing ninth, though they’ve had a couple of blips across the country this season, so we’ll see a steady run from them on Saturday. Their dressage can range from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, and they often have a rail, but it’s all part of the learning curve for a talented young horse like this one.
Ben Hobday and Harelaw Wizard
Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Endoli xx x Arnloss Fairy). Owned by Charles Robson.
We all heard the whoop of joy that descended from Northumberland when Ben and his Wiz-kid made it off the waitlist – it’s the same ineffable whoop of joy that we’ve come to associate with most things that Ben’s involved with. Although we’ll miss the V8 Supercob Mr Mulry, who retired last year, Harelaw Wizard is certainly following in his oversized footsteps. By the Thoroughbred Endoli and out of a half-Clydesdale mare, he’s certainly not the typical stamp of an event horse, but that’s never stopped him – nor his determined rider – before.
Ben is a master at fitness for these heavier, unlikely types, and makes great use of the beach near his yard for fastwork and therapeutic splashes in the surf. Sourced as a youngster from Ian Stark, Harelaw Wizard was produced to the five-star level by Emily Parker, before Ben took the reins in 2018. The horse hasn’t had a cross-country jumping penalty since 2016, and jumped a slow clear around Burghley last year for 30th place. He tends to be a mid-30s scorer, though he delivered a fantastic PB of 28.9 last year at Hartpury CCI4*-S. He’s not the fastest horse in the field, nor is he the best showjumper – he flits between clear rounds and sixteen-faulters, but it’ll be great fun to watch him around this tough track.
Emma Hyslop-Webb and Waldo III – FIRST-TIMERS
Sixteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Faldo x Naomi). Owned by the rider.
Emma has two horses entered – her second ride, Pennlands Douglas is currently waitlisted. Douglas was Emma’s mount for her first five-star at Pau, back in 2016, and also her first Luhmühlen and Burghley, but we’ve only seen Waldo once at this level. He went to that spectacularly tough Pau in 2017, finishing 39th after some problems on course.
Since then, he’s had clear rounds at Chatsworth and Bramham, and finished third in the CCI4-L at Portugal’s Barroca d’Alva early this spring. He’s prone to the odd bit of interpretive dance in the first phase, and as a result, his scores fluctuate from the high 30s to high 40s, but Emma will be here to give him a jolly good run around a nice, beefy track. They’re first-timers by default – Emma was entered but didn’t start with Douglas in 2017 – and you’ll spot them from a mile off as they head out on course in Emma’s signature Barbie pink colours.
Tom Jackson and Carpa du Buisson Z
Eleven-year-old Zangersheide mare (Calvaro Z x Unique du Buisson). Owned by Suzie Jenkins.
Gorgeous Katya is one of those catlike, clever little mares you’d love to have a sit on yourself. Twinkly-eyed and intelligent, she comes into her second four-star brimming with promise: her first, at Pau last year, saw her finish 13th, adding 18.8 time penalties to her 36.7 dressage. It was a great start to this topmost level of her career thus far, and a great addition to a resume which includes 4th in the tough Under-25 CCI4-L at Bramham, where she produced an impressive 28.7 dressage and then quite simply flew around the stinker of a track. Her 2.8 time penalties showed just what this exceptional mare will soon deliver at the five-star level – now that Tom’s given her a suitable first run at Pau, we may see her really produce the goods here. A great shout for a dark horse top fifteen finish.
Richard Jones and Alfies Clover
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tajraasi x Clover Hill). Owned by Sandra Martin, Dinah Saunders, and the rider.
Everyone loves a comeback kid, and good-humoured Jones has, perhaps, one of the more unusual comeback stories in this year’s field. In 2017, he and Alfies Clover were on track to achieve the best result of Jones’ career in the CCI3* at Bramham, where they posted a 35 and one of the top cross-country rounds of the weekend to sit in 11th place going into the final phase. After their round, however, disaster struck – Jones slipped while stepping out of the living area of his lorry and caught his wedding ring on the way down. He ended up losing his finger.
But he’s not stopped easily – this is a man who, the year prior, had to have a foot completely rebuilt – and we saw the pair at Burghley a mere three months later. They finished in 22nd place, despite the constant pain and lack of grip in Jones’ left hand. That was the 11-year-old gelding’s first five-star, and Jones’ first since 2014.
The pair retired across the country at Badminton last spring after clocking up 20 penalties, but they then went on to put their Bramham demons firmly to bed — they finished 7th in the CCI4-L, adding nothing to their 31.9 dressage. Then they went on to Burghley, where they did the same again: the determined duo finished seventh, adding just 2.8 time penalties across the country to their dressage of 34.2. They’ve always been a cracking combination, but last season we saw Richard and Alfie hit their stride – you’d be silly to take your eyes off them for a moment at Badminton.
Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight – FIRST-TIMERS
Eleven-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Goldmine xx x Duva). Owned by the rider.
Multitalented Malin has been part of the Swedish national team since 2017 – an accolade that she’s balanced with attending vet school. Pretty impressive stuff, especially when you consider that she’s fit in stints working for Anna Nilsson in Sweden and Malin Pedersen in Germany, too.
Malin and Golden Midnight, originally produced by fellow Swede Elvira Stafverfeldt, were silver medalists in the 2017 Nordic-Baltic Championships. They were fifth in the horse’s first CCI4-L, too, at Sopot last year, and they jumped clear for top-twenty finishes at both Waregem and Boekelo to cap off their 2018 season. This will be a first five-star for both horse and rider – and Malin, who is currently 56th in the world rankings, is hoping to nab a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
Expect a mid- to high-30s dressage, and what ought to be a clear cross-country – though they’ve not got the experience at the CCI4-L level that some of their competitors do, they’ve been quick and consistent in their runs. They’ll probably have a couple of rails on Sunday, but that’s to be expected – this’ll be the biggest test they’ve faced so far (although we hear the vet school exams are a bit hard, too).
Emily King and Dargun
Eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Vaillant x Nandalite). Owned by Jane del Missier.
Who can forget Emily King’s first appearance at Badminton? At just 20 years old, she was the youngest competitor in the field, and she’d made her five-star debut the year prior an impressive one, finishing fourth with Brookleigh at Pau. No one would have blamed her if she’d cracked under the pressure of riding down the centreline at Badminton – after all, her mother is two-time winner Mary King, and what 20-year-old finds it easy to cope with the weight of that amount of media and spectator attention?
But she didn’t. Her dazzling test put her into second place, just 2.4 penalties behind eventual winner Michael Jung. On cross-country day, she rode like someone who had grown up around the Badminton parkland – which, we suppose, she sort of did. Disaster struck at the penultimate fence from home, when Brook twisted to the right and Emily hit the deck. In a cruel irony, this had actually happened to Mary, too – she fell at the very same fence when in the lead in 2005.
That was back in 2016, and while top horse Brookleigh has been enjoying a long holiday to recuperate from a tendon strain, Emily has been working on producing a string of exciting younger horses. Head of the pack is Dargun, known at home as Dre. He’s been a funny character at the four-star level – his career is made up of enormous highs and crashing lows, and he can be just as mercurial in the showjumping as he is across the country. But there’s no doubt that he’s talented – he stormed to the win in Bramham’s tough under-25 CCI4-L class, beating Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus. They, of course, went on to win the five-star at Pau. But they’ve actually only got four clear cross-country rounds at the four-star level out of nine completions, and they’ve failed to complete at five four-star events. In the interest of clarity, though, one of those was a showjumping elimination, and two were withdrawals. The other two non-completions were retirements – they’ve not had an cross-country falls at this level.
Emily seemed confident at Bramham that Dre’s ups and downs were behind him – but even so, this will be a big test. Expect them to be competitive early on – they should post a high-20s dressage – and then, we’ll all be keeping our fingers crossed for a little bit of King magic on Saturday.
Kitty King and Vendredi Biats
Ten-year-old Selle Français gelding (Winningmood x Liane Normande). Owned by Diana Bown, Sally Eyre, Samantha Wilson, and Sally Lloyd-Baker.
Vendredi Biats is yet another horse sourced by Padraig and Lucy McCarthy’s MGH Sporthorses, and what a supermodel stamp he is. Though he started his 2018 with an elimination at Belton for accumulated refusals, we’re choosing to chalk that one up to the poor spring conditions, which meant few horses were able to run adequately in preparation. This feels pretty justifiable, to be honest, because he then went on to finish third at Chatsworth, fourth at Bramham, and fifth at Blenheim, absolutely demonstrating his quality from beginning to end.
‘Froggy’ is a bit of a cheeky character – he’s certainly fond of the odd buck at home, and he likes nothing better than to sink his teeth into his stablemates. Originally produced by France’s Tom Carlile, he was then sold onto William Fox-Pitt. William, tired of the horse’s naughty streak, decided to sell him on again.
Since then, Kitty has had to experiment a bit with his tack, trying to balance the need for some extra control with allowing the horse to feel as though he can run and jump freely. 2018’s results hint that perhaps, just maybe, this balance has finally been struck. He’s a five-star first-timer, sure, but make sure you catch Froggy in action – he’s such a cheeky little monkey that he might just decide to win the whole thing from pillar to post.
Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD
Fifteen-year old Oldenburg gelding (Helikon xx x Goldige). Owned by the rider.
Will we finally get to celebrate a Happy Hale Bob Day this May? We came so close in 2017 – she led going into the final phase with nothing in hand, but it all fell apart, and she and Bobby dropped to ninth after notching up a wildly uncharacteristic 16 penalties, which included a stop on course.
Then, they just missed out on becoming the World Champions when the very last rail on course at WEG tumbled. There, they finished third. But their competition record isn’t just a string of ‘nearlies’. They’ve won 24% of their 50 internationals together, and finished in the top ten in 74% of them. In 2014 he won the five-star at Pau, on his second run at the level. He was second at Badminton the following year. In 2017, they became the European champions after finishing on their dressage score of 20.2 (yes, really) at a fiendishly tricky Strzegom. In 2017, they won Aachen. In 2018 they won the ERM leg at Wiesbaden. They were also the reserve German National Champions last season. They finished in the top 20 at Rio. If you want me to start delving into the breadth and depth of even just their top three finishes, we’ll be here all day. With his six-run average of 22.7 and clear cross-country runs in 86% of his internationals with Ingrid, he’s without a doubt one of the best horses in the field – and, let’s be honest, the world. He’s as solid in great going as he is in terrible conditions (2015 Europeans in THAT monsoon, I’m looking at you).
Bobby will be top three after the dressage, and should go clear – though their last run, in a CCI3*-S at Kreuth, ended in a rider fall across the country. As the theatre folks will attest, a bad dress rehearsal must mean a good opening night – right?
Camille Lejeune and Tahina des Isles
Twelve-year-old mare (Calvados x Elan De La Cour). Owned by Virginie Jorissen and rider.
Tahina Des Isles made her four-star debut in 2018, finishing 14th at Luhmuehlen after an international personal best of 29.6 was slightly hampered by 18.8 time penalties and two rails down. Then, they came to Burghley, where the plucky mare and her expressive rider finished 16th, adding 13.6 time penalties to their dressage of 33.9. Notably, they were also the first combination to jump clear on the final day – before that, we played pick up sticks for a long, long time.
Lejeune has competed at four-star twice before last season, both with R’Du Temps Bliniere – they were 19th at Pau in 2015 and 26th at Badminton the following year. Expect a low 30s dressage but a quicker cross-country than we’ve seen from them at this level – they’re certainly ready to step up to the plate and ride for the top ten, which is where we saw them finish at Belton.
As Camille (who is, I should note, NOT a woman) said every day at Burghley, “it is the dream of a kid, no?”
Bill Levett and Lassban Diamond Lift
Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Easy Lift xx x Lassban Chow Bella). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch and Jenny Levett.
Monart graduate ‘Sparkles’ is a classic 7/8 blood horse, and he’s been a firm favourite of Bill’s wife, Jenny, from the day he arrived at their yard. He had a frustrating end to 2018 – he went to the WEG but came out of quarantine feeling under the weather, and his competition ended abruptly across the country when Bill took a tumble. Otherwise, though, he was never out of the top twenty in his other five internationals last year, and he finished third in hot classes at Tattersalls (CCI4-S) and Bramham (CCI4-L).
In his nineteen internationals, he’s only ever faulted across the country twice, and he’s getting quicker and quicker. His dressage tends to be in the high 20s, which means we can probably expect something around the 30 mark at Badminton. His last pole was nearly a year ago, and he’s a super young talent – but his final placing will likely come down to whether Bill thinks he’s ready to really push for the time. He may decide to give the gelding a confidence-boosting run instead.
Clara Loiseau and Wont Wait – FIRST-TIMERS
Fifteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Starborough xx x Impatience xx). Owned by the rider.
Pau 2018 was a seriously happy hunting ground for French young guns, and Clara and her beloved gelding were right up there with the very best of them. They finished third, delivering one of only four double-clears on Saturday – in the end, a solitary rail kept them from finishing on their dressage score at their debut five-star.
Clara is a stylish, positive, very French sort of rider, and a perfect match for her elegant Thoroughbred, who cruises down to forward distances seamlessly. They’ve never had more than 12 time penalties at the four-star level and above, and in fact, they finished a stonking 22 seconds inside the time at their one and only five-star. Their dressage scores are creeping ever closer to the 30 mark (although let’s not talk about that first-phase elimination at Jardy last year!). Their showjumping is the one weak link – they tend to have a pole or two, and at Aachen, they were eliminated for a rider fall in this phase.
Clara and Wont Wait were one of our standout pairs at Pau, but the course was made for them – it rewarded the forward riding they find so natural. Badminton is a different course with different tests, but if they can dig deep and adapt on the fly, we could see them look very impressive indeed.
Nick Lucey and Proud Courage – FIRST-TIMERS
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Coolmore Panther). Owned by the rider.
Another Courage baby, and another five-star start for this partnership, who were our first combination to come off the waitlist, and who first notched up a completion at this level in 2017. That was at Luhmühlen, and although they picked up a 20 across the country, they finished the job to end up 32nd.
Last year, we saw this duo take on Burghley, and they weren’t quite so lucky there: they had a 20 and ultimately a rider tumble to end their week early. Undeterred, they rerouted to Blenheim CCI4*-L, where they ran into some minor cross-country trouble but finished 52nd out of over 100 starters. On their day, they can be a great cross-country pair – they were 7th in the under-25 CCI4*-L at Bramham last year over a seriously beefy track, and they were inside the time, too. The previous year, they were twelfth in the same class. Nick has been working hard on Proud Courage’s dressage, and the results are showing: they posted a 34.4 at Bramham last season, well down from the 43.2 they scored in their first CCI4*-L run back in 2015. A clear completion will be the goal for this duo.
Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky
Fourteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Jumbo x Avin Fun Bar). Owned by Lucy McCarthy, Huw Lloyd, and Christopher and Sarita Perkins.
An analytical form guide is not the place for personal opinions. It is not the place for conjecture (okay, debatable). It is not the place for me to start openly weeping, like Debbie who wants to hug every cat. BUT YET.
I would love Mr Chunky even if he was a bit rubbish, because Mr Chunky is called MR CHUNKY. However, Mr Chunky is not a bit rubbish. The Chunkiest Monkey of them all is a bit of a freak, actually, and his rider is pretty darn impressive, too, despite being one of the British eventing scene’s most tragic dancers. (Sorry, P-Dawg, I’ve committed to reminding everyone every year.)
Mr Chunky was bought as a four-year-old by Padraig’s wife, Lucy Wiegersma. She produced him through to five-star before Padraig took over the ride in 2016. Padraig, for his part, only took up eventing a few years ago – in fact, he contested his first one-star (now two-star) in the latter half of 2013. By the end of 2016, he was an Olympian. Some people, eh?
Prior to picking up eventing, Padraig rode and trained showjumpers in Ireland, around Europe, and in the States, working with Rolf Goran Bengtsson, Max Hauri, and Hans Horn. Then he took a break to earn himself a first-class degree in Economics and Finance (with German on the side), before pursuing a PhD on Ireland’s business insolvency laws. Though an academic career beckoned, Padraig knew he needed to get back into horses. A chance meeting with Lucy, who had flown to the Emerald Isle to try one of Padraig’s sales horses, turned into a fully fledged romance, and she persuaded him to give her sport a go. Less than two years later, Padraig represented his country for the first time.
Last year, Padraig and Mr Chunky delivered Ireland’s first individual eventing medal in decades when they took silver – both team and individual – at the WEG. They were eighth in their first Badminton last year, adding just 9.4 total time penalties across the jumping phases to their 28.9 dressage, and they were seventh at Blenheim the year prior. Another top ten finish is exceptionally likely; something rather more exciting than that is not at all improbable.
Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser
Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Ariane du Prieure II). Owned by Jane Inns, Alison McEwen, and the rider.
From one freak of a horse to another: Toledo de Kerser is one of the hot favourites for a top placing in this year’s field, and for very good reason.
He stormed into the spotlight back in 2016, when he partnered Tom to a win in Bramham’s hotly-contested Under-25 CCI4-L. Then, he jumped clear around his five-star debut at Pau that autumn, finishing 22nd because Tom opted to run him slowly. A jolly good tactic it was, too – they finished eleventh at Badminton the following spring, fourth at Burghley that autumn, and seventh at Badminton last year. Then, they popped over the pond to Tryon, where they helped the British team to a gold medal and finished 12th individually.
Toledo is consistent and flashy in the ring, scoring in the mid-to-high-20s reliably, and he’s only faulted three times across the country in his 22 internationals. If we were being picky, we could have said he’s not the speediest horse – but then he went clear inside the time at Tryon, so really, what do we know anyway?! On Sunday, you’ll really see Toledo shine – he’s probably the best showjumper in this list, and has only ever knocked two rails in his international career. Don’t let this pair out of your sight.
Harry Meade and Away Cruising
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Cruise On x Parklands Princess). Owned by Charlotte Opperman.
‘Spot’ has been orbiting the stratosphere of superstardom for a while now, but his upper-middling results never quite pushed him over the threshold – until Burghley 2018, where he proved that he was a remarkable force to be reckoned with. Though previously not considered a quick horse, he motored around the enormous track, adding just 1.6 time penalties to his dressage of 29.5. Though he dropped a rail – and a couple of placings – on the final day, he still finished sixth with one of the rounds of the week.
This will be his second Badminton, and his fifth five-star: he debuted at Luhmühlen in 2017, finishing fourteenth, and then added fifteenth at Burghley to his resume later that year. Last spring he tackled his first Badminton, where he was sixteenth. Four top twenties in four runs is rather good going, and he’s only getting better: the dressage marks have dropped, as have the time penalties, but if anything will preclude a top placing here, it’s his final phase. He’s gone from being a consistent twelve-faulter to being a four- or eight-faulter, but still – the faults are there. If Harry has figured out the secret to a clear showjumping round, this pair will be a serious threat to the leaders at Badminton.
Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden
Twelve-year-old gelding (Young Convinced x Ballybrohan Diamond). Owned by Aivar Ward and MS Team.
When we look at Ivar Gooden, known by his friends as Sir Charles, we get a glimpse of the ‘golden era’ of eventing – that heady heyday in which the Ians, and the Lucindas, and the Ginnys of the world matched wits and willpower over enormous timber fences. Sir Charles is a classic cross-country machine, and he’s proven that several times over with his brilliant results at both Badminton and Burghley.
Charles was one of only two horses to jump clear around both British five-stars in 2017, a fact made all the more impressive when you realise that it was his first season at the level. They also made their Nations Cup debut at Haras du Pin, finishing in 10th place and best of the Brits. He’s quick — he added just 10.8 time penalties at Burghley that year — and he’s reliable across the country, too. He looked very impressive when finishing in 11th place at Belton’s CIC3* that year, with the second-fastest time of the day on a course that saw no one make the optimum. This year, we enjoyed watching him tear around again, this time for ninth.
At Badminton last year we saw both Imogen and Charles really come into their own, adding just 4.8 time penalties and a rail to finish in 11th place after a colossal climb up the leaderboard. They then had an uncharacteristic 20 penalties at both Barbury and Aachen, but went clear and finished on their dressage score of 37.8 at Haras du Pin. They finished their season with 19th at Burghley.
Dressage has historically been this duo’s weak point, but they tore up the form guide at Great Witchingham last month when they won the AI after posting an enormous PB of 23.9. If they can carry that form through to Badminton, they’ll be frightening.
Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello
Eighteen-year-old gelding (Ricardo Z x Ring of Ford). Owned by Alison Schmutz, Andrew Tinkler, and Jill Andrews.
Little Franky (not to be confused with Big Frankie, the stable name of barn-mate Fernhill Frankie), is a real stalwart campaigner these days. He jumped around three five-stars in 2018 alone, finishing 13th at Badminton, 22nd at Burghley, and then adding a rare 20 at Pau.
His dressage is what lets him down — he’s a clear machine, with just a handful of cross-country jumping penalties on his 52-strong international record, and though he’s less than 50% blood and a trick horse to get fit, his natural cruising speed is fast — but they’re unlikely to score below 35 on the first day. Still, they’re perennial climbers, and firm favourites for the Glentrool trophy, which is awarded to the biggest jump up the leaderboard through the week. A fast clear will be rewarded on the leaderboard, and then they’ll just have to try to avoid their customary two rails on Sunday to protect their hard work.
Little Franky, who’s probably feeling a bit emasculated by his rubbish nickname, is an out-and-out athlete, but when he gets four-star fit he can be quite aggressive in his stable, so Joseph has started using an interesting innovation to keep him happy. Franky’s gimp mask — not its official name, obviously — was developed to alter the breeding season for Thoroughbred mares, used blue LEDs to simulate longer daylight hours, and Joseph started using it prior to Burghley to stabilise his top horse. It seems to have worked, though it looks a bit fruity, all things considered.
Harry Mutch and HD Bronze – FIRST-TIMERS
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Northern Medera xx). Owned by Caroline Mutch.
Young Harry and his top horse managed to scoop their Badminton qualification by the absolute skin of their teeth, clinching it with a great second place finish at Barroca CCI4-L in Portugal. Entries closed just a few days later. Talk about living life on the edge!
Harry might only be 21-years-old, but he’s chock-full of determination – despite only having ridden for eight years, he’s proved a dab hand at producing young horses, and set up his own yard even after a crashing fall and subsequent leg hematoma benched him for a chunk of a season. Based in Newcastle, Harry has trained with Oliver Townend, and has jumped clear around Bramham, Blenheim, and Burgham with HD Bronze. Five-star is a big step up, and they’ve only got fourteen internationals on their record, but Harry is determined and gutsy. He won’t win it, but he could notch up a nice clear round to start off the most exciting part of his career.
Jim Newsam and Magennis
Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Inishkea). Owned by Carole Hawthorne and the rider.
Jim and Magennis have won the CCI4-L at Ballindenisk twice now – they took it in 2010, when the horse was just eight-years-old, and they won it again last year. That’s great and all, but what’s even more interesting is that Jim spends his off-season working as a rider and actor double on the set of Game of Thrones (no word yet on whether he was Jon Snow’s bum double. YOU KNOW NOTHING, JIM NEWSAM).
When he’s not slashing up White Walkers and, I don’t know, crossbowing prostitutes to feed to dragons, Jim enjoys notching up surprise wins and zooming around cross-country courses. This will be a seventh five-star for this pair, who have two completions at the level under their belt, both at Badminton. Their best result was 45th here in 2017. Their aim should just be to log another clear round – then we’ll be cornering Jim in the mixed zone to gossip about Daenarys.
Willa Newton and Chance Remark
Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Actinium xx x Cuildooish Lady). Owned by Feena Machin.
Chance Remark finished 2018 12th in the British Eventing horse rankings, but that certainly wasn’t the high point of his year – he also finished fifth at Luhmühlen and eighth at Burghley, despite Willa having to sit out part of the season with a broken collarbone. ‘Austen’ has tackled Badminton once before – he was eliminated in 2017 after a fall on the flat, but he’s aging like a fine wine and could pull another top ten out of the bag here.
He’s generally a low-30s horse – though dipped down to 28.7 at Luhmühlen – and he’s quick and capable across the country. His showjumping is hit or miss – he pulled a rail in Germany, but didn’t touch a thing after that gruelling cross-country day at Burghley.
Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs
Twelve-year-old gelding (Chillout x Cult Hero). Owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon.
“Could this be the next Avebury?” asked a journalist at Bramham last year, where the horse finished second. “Well, sure – he’s the right colour,” grinned Andrew, who doesn’t ordinarily go in for sentimentalities, but who quite rightly holds a certain fondness for the gorgeous ‘Chill’. And who wouldn’t? He came out on his five-star debut last season at Burghley and finished third, easily delivering the only FOD of the entire event.
After the catastrophic neck injury that nearly ended Andrew’s career a few seasons ago, he’s rightfully gotten pickier and pickier about the horses he chooses to ride, sending many of them – including entry Ulises – the way of close friend Oliver Townend. When Andrew keeps the ride on a horse – and puts all his eggs in its lone basket – that should tell you something very important.
Named by the rider for Swallowhead Springs, a “holy well” located in the Wiltshire village of Avebury, Chill is on the cusp of something enormous – even more enormous than coyly teasing out the old softy residing within Nicholson.
Julia Norman and Carryon Bobby Boy – FIRST-TIMERS
Fourteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Lauriston x Guldet KLT). Owned by Diana Wethered.
It’s a first Badminton and a first five-star for both Wiltshire-based Julia and her top horse. They had intended to head to Burghley last year, but instead stormed around a strong CCI4*-L track at Millstreet for fifth place. Since then, we’ve seen them deliver a slow clear around an OI at Tweseldown last month on a good dressage score of 28.9, and then withdraw after a rocky showjumping phase in an AI at Gatcombe. They tackled Belton’s CCI3*-S, too, finishing 46th after another slow clear cross-country and two rails down in the showjumping.
Dressage has historically been a tricky phase for this horse, but his scores are steadily improving – he’s dropped from the 40s to the 30s over the last year, though Badminton’s atmosphere is a big one, and we could see a bit of a spike. Really, though, he’s coming for the cross-country.
Wills Oakden and Cooley Ramiro – FIRST-TIMERS
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x Ordela Royale). Owned by the Balcarres Eventing Syndicate.
Debutante Wills is a promising first-timer from Scotland who has totted up some quietly impressive results over the last year or so, including 8th at Chatsworth, 9th at Tattersalls, 11th at Blair, and 16th at Blenheim. Wills, who previously worked for Ian Stark, has represented Great Britain on the world stage a couple of times, too – he was the highest-placed British rider at the 2018 Strzegrom Nations Cup, where he finished third and helped steer the team to second place.
Wills made his five-star debut back in 2013, when he and McFly headed down to Pau. A retirement on course ended their week early, and Wills has waited a long time to get another chance to prove himself at the top. Cooley Ramiro’s dressage results continue to creep downwards, with recent scores trending around the 30 mark, but it’s the cross-country that you’ll want to watch: this duo have only ever had one jumping fault across the country in their seventeen runs together. Wills is a real under-the-radar talent in this phase.
Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High
Sixteen-year-old Canadian Sport Horse (Rio Bronco W x Evita II). Owned by John and Judy Rumble.
He was the 2017 Eventing Nation Horse of the Year, the USEA Advanced Horse of the Year in the same annum, and Woody finished his 2017 season on a serious high note, as he and Selena became the first Canadian combination to win the Fair Hill CCI4*-L. They posted a level PB of 26.2 and added a couple of time penalties across the jumping phases to walk the win, leaving Selena confident that they could finally tackle their big dream: a trip to Badminton.
The duo had been to five-star before, claiming 10th place at his debut at Kentucky in 2014, and in 2017 they finished 11th at the same venue — their only foray out of the top 10 at an international all season. When they came to Badminton, it wasn’t without a significant amount of experience, and their eventual 24th-place finish was a respectable start. Now, with the backing of innumerable supporters, and the Badminton dream of owner John Rumble still burning bright, they’re coming back with a firm knowledge of what to expect in hand, a clear round at the WEG under their belts, and wins in Red Hill’s CCI4*-S and Bromont’s CCI4*-S to propel them. If you see Selena or groom Anne-Marie around the event, be sure to buy yourself a pair of Woody socks and cheer Canada’s 2018 Horse of the Year on. He’s likely to reward you with an exciting week.
Michael Owen and Bradeley Law
Fifteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Mill Law x Scarlet Lady). Owned by the Jenning’s Syndicate.
This will be Bradeley Law’s fourth attempt at the level — he was eliminated in his four-star debut at Badminton in 2016, but finished 35th last year. Then, we saw him notch up a career-best result at Burghley last season, where he finished 15th after adding just 7.2 time penalties to his 40.1 dressage.
Michael Owen produced Ludwig Svennerstal’s King Bob to four-star before the Swede took the reins, and also enjoys dabbling in amateur racing in his presumably limited spare time. He’s flown under the radar, but make sure to watch Michael and his game little horse on Saturday – they’ve got a lot to give, as Bradeley Law duly demonstrated in 2016, when he decided to jump several five-star fences backwards after unseating his rider.
Emily Parker and Cryptonite – FIRST-TIMERS
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (S. Creevagh Ferro x Zero Volts). Owned by Cameron Crawford.
You might remember Emily Parker as the former rider of Harelaw Wizard, Ben Hobday’s newest five-star supercob, and a waitlisted entry for Badminton. Emily took him to his first five-star at Pau in 2017, after producing him from the CCI2*-S level. She’s had one other appearance at five-star, back in 2012 – she started, but didn’t finish, Burghley with former ride Treefers.
Emily’s return to the top level is being made in conjunction with what is perhaps the most poignant story of this year’s event. Owner Cameron Crawford’s 20-year-old son, George, was tragically killed last year when a car struck him as he walked back to his university accommodation. Now, his family has set up the George Crawford Legacy Trust, which offers bursaries to help individuals and charities achieve their goals and pursue their passions. So far, the Trust has bought a pony for the Crawford’s local Riding for the Disabled centre, and has plenty of fundraisers and a gala planned, too. Look out for Emily’s cross-country colours – she’ll be representing the colours and branding of the trust.
Emily Philp and Camembert – FIRST-TIMERS
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Skehanagh Diamond Lass). Owned by Nigel and Mitchell Philp.
Talk about being good over the poles: the uber-talented Bert hasn’t had a rail down, nationally or internationally, since 2015 – and that was his first since 2013. He’s becoming more and more impressive across the country, too – he finished third at the Event Rider Masters finale at Blair Castle last year after adding just 2.4 time penalties in terrible conditions.
This will be a first five-star for both Bert and Emily, who didn’t finish outside of the top twenty once last season, closing out their year with seventh place at Blenheim. This season, they’ve had two runs: they were fourth in an OI at Poplar Park, and 15th in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S. A dressage score of 36.5 precluded a higher placing there; their 4.4 added time penalties were very respectable indeed. If they can keep their dressage closer to their normal low-30s, expect them to be a real dark horse combination – though Badminton, of course, isn’t a dressage show, and it should play to all their considerable strengths.
Caroline Powell and On the Brash
Thirteen-year-old gelding (Mise Eire x Hollymount Girl). Owned by Sarah Tobey and Sue Smiley.
Formerly ridden by Australia’s Sam Griffiths, On The Brash is yet another horse who fell victim to the Curse of Pau in 2017. That was his five-star debut, and perhaps something of a shock after an 11th place finish at Bramham CCI4*-L and sixth at Blair Castle CCI4*-S foretold rather better things.
They’ve been on the up and up since, jumping clear around Badminton last season for 29th place and finishing 15th in a CCI4*-S at Barbury. Then, they jumped clear around Burghley, finishing 31st. Rufus’s weak point is his dressage — he averages a mid-to-high 30s mark — and the duo are yet to make the time in any national or international run. It’s possible, particularly since we lost the multiplier, to make colossal moves up the leaderboard after a substandard dressage — but to do so, Powell and On The Brash will need to find the sweet spot on the accelerator.
Katie Preston and Templar Justice – FIRST-TIMERS
Twelve-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Weston Justice x Welton Vivat). Owned by the rider.
2018 saw TJ and owner Katie, a full-time equine vet, make their five-star debut at Luhmühlen, where they finished eighteenth. Then, they went on to Burghley, once again jumping clear, and this time finishing 24th. It’s rare that we see a true amateur rider take on the big guns these days, but for Katie and TJ, this has likely been an instrumental part of their success – Katie’s veterinary skills certainly helped her to bring her horse back to his best after a major injury a couple of seasons ago.
Dressage is the trickiest phase for 15.2hh TJ, who will likely be the smallest horse in the field this year. Expect a score in the high 30s, which won’t be competitive in the early days – but watch him climb with a quick, gleeful clear on Saturday. Unfortunately, Sunday’s competition will drop them back down a few places – TJ likes to take a few poles for the road.
Jonelle Price and Classic Moet
Sixteen-year-old mare (Classic xx x Gamston Bubbles). Owned by Trisha Rickards.
What, this old thing? Just something I dragged out of the back of the barn. Nothing very exciting.
WE KID, of course. Mega Molly is our reigning champion and the very bastion of #girlpower. Who can forget her blazing her away across the country last spring, radar ears pinned back against her own slipstream? Who didn’t feel their heart skip a beat every time she let her toes thud against a rail over Sunday’s course, almost daring them to escape their cups? Molly (and Jonelle!) was one of those winners that we always rather felt OUGHT to be a five-star champion, and it seemed right and proper that it should happen as Jonelle blazed her comeback trail after her maternity leave. Of course, the story continued on with another five-star win for Jonelle and an endless stream of accolades elsewhere, and as we begin the 2019 season in earnest, the Price family will still be the hot ticket for most punters.
Molly has had just one run so far in 2019 – that was at Gatcombe, where she popped round an OI section to finish 13th. It was her first run back since the WEG at Tryon, where she was 19th after adding two rails to her 30 dressage. There’s still an awful lot to come from this little legend – and her remarkable rider – and watching them across the country is one of the great joys afforded to us as eventing fans. Don’t miss the #supermere.
Tim Price and Bango
Thirteen-year-old gelding (Garrison Royal x No Sale). Owned by The Numero Uno Syndicate.
“Uno doesnt really mention it much these days, but he comes from a pretty basic Irish bog and clearly spent his early years flogging through the swamp-like mud to forage for food. This has left him with a fantastic ability to go cross country in the worst of conditions and since he spent a fair amount of time in thick fog as a baby unable to see his mother across the field he also doesnt mind being left on his own in the slightest.”
So reads Uno’s description on the Price’s delightfully silly website, and it’s proven to be true: this is another cross-country machine in the Team Price line-up. Uno has never been better than he was at Burghley last year, where he finished tenth (but got to stand in for stablemate Oz in the prize-giving) after adding just 9.2 time penalties to his 32.1 dressage.
This will be his fourth five-star but first Badminton – he made his level debut at Luhmühlen in 2015, finishing 15th, and clocked up a 20 around his first Burghley in 2016. Since then, it’s been onwards and upwards for the talented gelding – and if we can see him bring his dressage scores a bit closer to his national averages, we could see him run very competitively indeed.
Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy
Sixteen-year-old gelding (Courage II x Sky Lassie). Owned by Verenna Allen and the rider.
Oz’s Burghley win last year was the final jewel in a seriously well-decorated crown for the Price family, and much like stablemate Classic Moet, Oz took the win whilst flying the flag for the underdogs. Okay, well, not underdogs, so much – after all, both the horses in question are supremely talented – but I don’t think either rider would mind me calling their horse unconventional, in the best possible way.
Oz first came to Tim as a resale project. Costing only £3,000, and possessing a pretty gnarly buck, Tim thought he’d be able to turn the gelding around pretty quickly and make himself some pocket money. As it turned out, he couldn’t get rid of him, no matter how hard he tried.
But all’s well that ends well: Oz has become a stalwart part of Tim’s string, finishing second at Burghley in 2015, fourth in 2016, fifth last year, and he’s been fifteenth, ninth, and twelfth at Badminton. He’s ultra-capable in the first phase, scoring 25.8 at Badminton last year, and he’s proven over the track here, with the ability to go very close to the optimum time at five-star. In fact, he’s won the William Miflin trophy at Badminton twice for being the closest to the time. Like Classic Moet, showjumping had always been his weak spot – but last year proved to us that the second you tell a Price – or a Price horse – that they’re not the best at something, that’s when they’ll suddenly become exceptionally good at the thing in question.
“He’s a character around the yard, and he’s the first horse I go and say hello to every morning,” he told us after his Burghley win. “He’s got his special scratches, where he does this giraffe thing with his neck. He’s just been here so long, and he’s so happy, but that’s not necessarily the sort of horse that goes and wins these things.”
Tim Price and Xavier Faer
Thirteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Catherston Liberator x Faerie Song Too). Owned by Trisha Rickards, Nigella Hall, and the rider.
“Hugo is a half brother to Faerie Dianimo but is a very different type, being tall and rangy. He really should have been named “Faerie Groundhog Day” as every day is a new day to Hugo … literally. He is not the smartest tool in the box but he has a great relationship with Tim and stepped up to [five] star last season like a pro. He is spooky, and is so in love with Classic Moet that he has even learnt to jump on his own to join her in whatever paddock she is residing in. Hugo is like a typical boarding school kid … he has no idea where the washing machine is but he knows exactly who the staff are.”
It’s unlikely we’ll get the chance to see goofy Hugo run at Badminton this year, but that’s just because he’s got a plane ticket booked to head to Kentucky and try to pin down the next part of the Grand Slam for Tim. He was third at Badminton in 2017, so he could just do it – but he’ll be heading there having had most of the 2018 season off.
Regis Prud’hon and Kaiser HDB 4175
Eleven-year-old Anglo-Arab STALLION (Quatar de Plape x Galaxie d’Olympe). Owned by the rider.
I said in last year’s form guide that Kaiser HDB 4175 “sounds like a knock-off brand microwave that you pick up at a stall on the street and enjoy for two days before it burns your kitchen down,” but I’ve matured since then, and grown as a person, and … yeah, nah, I still agree with every word of that, and am already dreading having to live-tweet about it during the trot-up. So many NUMBERS.
Ridden as a youngster by Spain’s Carlos Diaz Fernandez, Mr. Microwave (NB: not actually his stable name. Although, in fairness, I don’t know that for sure — it could be. One can but hope) promptly won at his first international with Regis – a CCI2*-S at Barroca d’Alva in 2016. Since then, he’s steadily worked his way up the levels, picking up top-ten placings at CCI3*-L (Ballindenisk, Strzegom) and CCI4*-S (Jardy) along the way.
In 2017, he went to the 8/9YO CCI4*-S at Blenheim and finished in a respectable 18th place, before a disappointing end to the season with a Big E and a retirement at CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S, respectively. After beginning the 2018 season with two wins at Barroca d’Alva, he headed to his first Badminton – but a 20 on course, lots of time penalties, and five rails on the final day saw him slip to 51st. The rest of his 2018 season was a bit of a let-down, although he’s started 2019 with another top ten finish at Barroca. This is still a young horse, and one with demonstrable talent, and Regis will do well to give him another educational run with the future in mind.
Louise Romeike and Wieloch’s Utah Sun – FIRST-TIMERS
Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner mare (Limbus x Imperial I). Owned by the rider.
Louise is another of the strong Swedish opposition turning out for Badminton this year – but if you’re looking at that surname and wondering about its origins, you’re not totally misguided. Louise is married to German eventer Claas Romeike.
This will be a debut five-star for both horse and rider, who were eleventh in the seriously tough 2017 European Championships at Strzegom. In their last six internationals, they’ve never been out of the 20s after the first phase, and they’ve only had four cross-country jumping faults in their 41 international runs. Their last rail was at Strzegom. Yes, they’re debutantes, but they’ll be exciting ones – if all continues on current form, they could be our best first-timers this year.
Nicky Roncoroni and Watts Burn
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Zero Watt xx x Deards Lady of the Knight.) Owned by Janey Barclay Roncoroni and Lorna McWilliam.
Now based in Ireland, British rider Nicky is a popular face on the circuit, as is the handsome Sir Wattles. You might remember this pair as being the best of the Brits at Great Meadows in 2017 – they finished fourth after a speedy clear. Since then, they’ve jumped clear around Blenheim and Pau, notably, finishing twelfth at the latter in the horse’s second five-star.
He’ll do a low-to-mid 30s dressage, and should go clear — at both his Pau runs, he added between 12 and 14.8 time penalties, but he can go quicker than that, and Badminton offers slightly more space to move. He tends to rub a solitary pole more often than not, but if the fates align, he could do a double clear for Nicky. Most importantly, he’s am absolute cross-country machine, and hasn’t had a jumping penalty in this phase in an international since 2014.
And a fun fact for you: Nicky produced Gemma Tattersall’s top horse Arctic Soul. Not a bad accolade to have on one’s resume.
Kai Rüder and Colani Sunrise
Thirteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Chico’s Boy x Larissa).
Clear around both the WEG (33rd) and the 2017 European Championships (6th), Colani Sunrise is not a horse you should write off, even if he comes into Badminton under the shadow of another German favourite.
Capable of a very low-30s dressage, and almost guaranteed a clear round on Sunday, Colani Sunrise’s one weak spot is his speed – we’ve only seen him finish inside the time in seven of his 42 internationals, and never at the CCI4*-L level or higher. He was at his quickest at Luhmühlen in 2016, where he made his five-star debut – there, he added just 4.4 time penalties on Saturday and finished ninth. This will be Kai’s first Badminton since 2010.
Tom Rowland and Possible Mission
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Temple Clover x Bahrain Supreme). Owned by Robin and Bunny Patrick.
The aptly-named ‘Hunter’ was purchased from a hunting yard in Ireland when he was five, by which point he already had two years’ experience jumping colossal drains, banks, and gates. Unsurprisingly, he’s a reliable cross-country horse, although he finds showjumping a bit spooky. The pair tackled their first five-star last year at Burghley, finishing a very creditable 27th after a slow clear. That was enough to qualify them for Badminton, and now that Tom knows his horse – and himself – that much better, we could see them show us what they’re really capable of. An uncharacteristic 20 at Belton may well have served to sharpen them up ahead of the big day.
Pietro Sandei and Rubis de Prere
Fourteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Fedor de Seves x Cina du Logis).
Dishy Italian policeman Pietro made his Badminton debut in 2017, finishing 40th with Mouse after two slow clear jumping phases. Now, the former Pony, Junior, and Young Rider team member is back, this time with the horse he contested the WEG and Strzegom’s European Championships with. Both of those were clear rounds, and the horse’s trip to Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S last year showed that he can really perform in the first phase on his day – but he’s still learning how to go fast, and he tends to have a rail, too. Expect a solid clear, but no waves made – unless they really commit to the clock.
Arianna Schivo and Quefira de l’Ormeau
Fifteen-year-old Selle Français mare (Iolisco de Quinhon x Isabelle du Brulot). Owned by Thomas Bouquet and the rider.
The daughter of an Olympian high-jumper, Arianna, too, has flown her country’s flag on the biggest stage: she competed at the Rio Olympics, finishing 34th with her Badminton entry. They also contested the European Championships in 2017, but withdrew from the second horse inspection. At last year’s WEG, they jumped clear to finish 31st.
They’ve been to Badminton once before, in 2017, though their week ended early when Arianna took a tumble at the inauspicious second fence. They rerouted to Saumur, finishing 12th, and haven’t had any cross-country jumping penalties in the seven internationals they’ve contested since – but even so, Arianna will be returning with a point to prove.
Tamra Smith and Wembley – FIRST-TIMERS
Sixteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Lester x E-Vip). Owned by Kevin Baumgardner and the rider.
Although he’s clocked up his very best results stateside with rider Tamie, Wembley has a pretty illustrious back-catalogue of riders: he was originally produced by France’s Sidney Dufresne, who then passed the ride along to Jonelle Price – or Richards, as she was then. Before the end of the 2010 season, though, he’d become Tim’s ride, and he would campaign him until the end of 2013. Then, Kevin Baumgardner purchased the 17hh gelding and competed him through CCI4*-S before passing the reins to Tamie in early 2017.
Since then, the California duo have picked up some very respectable results: they’ve been second and third in Twin Rivers’ CCI4*-S, tenth and sixth at Galway Downs CCI4*-S, thirteenth at 2017’s Fair Hill CCI4*-L, and fourteenth in the horse’s five-star debut at Kentucky in 2018. Tamie has competed at Grand Prix dressage, too, so it was perhaps no surprise to see her in the top three after the first phase. Wembley’s finishing score of 41.5 is competitive by any standards, but this will be the biggest test of his life — and we’re looking forward to cheering him on every step of the way.
James Sommerville and Talent
Thirteen-year-old AES gelding (Eurocommerce Toulouse x Rozalina). Owned by Jennifer Sommerville and the rider.
Yorkshire-based James worked for both Nicola Wilson and Oliver Townend before setting up on his own, and if you’re easily charmed by a bit of Northern twang, this one will certainly tick a few boxes for you. If quirky, clever jumping horses are your bag, his horse will take care of that.
James and Talent made their five-star debut at Badminton in 2017, but their campaign ended early when James took a tumble mid-course. They came back last year and finished 45th, though a knocked pin somewhat marred their score. This year, they’ll be aiming to make it a clean sheet, and hopefully Talent will produce the low-30s mark he’s capable of without letting the big atmosphere overcook him.
Georgie Spence and Halltown Harley
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Harlequin du Carel x Cummer Beauty). Owned by Suzanne Doggett.
Georgie took the ride on Halltown Harley over from Kiwi Caroline Powell at the end of 2016, and they quietly got to know one another through the 2017 season. They won the Nations Cup — Georgie’s first — at Wiener Neustadt and came in 14th in the Nations Cup at Waregem, as well as finishing 12th at Bramham’s CCI4-L. Then, they went to Badminton in 2018, jumping a slow clear for 33rd place. They followed this with second place in the Nations Cup at Great Meadows, VA and then won CCI4-L at Millstreet.
A mid-30s score is about right for these two, and while they added a fair amount of time last year, we’ll likely see Georgie take her foot off the brakes this time around. Harley is proving to be a really solid team horse for Georgie, and a good performance here could see her step up from Nations Cup appearances to the Europeans long-list.
Toshiyuki Tanaka and Kelecyn Pirate – FIRST-TIMERS
Thirteen-year-old gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Riding Club Crane.
Based at Angela Tucker’s Gloucestershire yard, Toshi must have had a fondness for the magic of Badminton instilled in him from his first forays into the British eventing scene in 2012. As part of the Japanese team’s formidable forward guard of Tokyo hopefuls, he’s made great strides with both Kelecyn Pirate and his WEG mount, Talma d’Allou, with whom he finished 15th in Tryon.
Kelecyn Pirate made light work of his five-star debut last season, which saw horse and rider make the long journey down to Pau. They added just 3.2 time penalties and two dropped rails to their 35.3 dressage to finish ninth, and there’s no reason to suspect they couldn’t be just as stealthily successful here.
An interesting, if slightly irrelevant, fact: most of the Japanese riders’ horses are sourced through members of the French team, largely due to the fact that their chef d’equipe is former French coach Laurent Bousquet. But Kelecyn Pirate is a rare exception: he was produced, competed, and sourced in Japan.
Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul
Sixteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Luso xx x Dream Cocktail xx). Owned by the Soul Syndicate.
Arctic Soul — known as Spike — has come SO close to a big win, finishing in third place at Burghley in 2017 and third at Badminton in 2016. He’s also been seventh here, two years ago, and fifth at Burghley in 2014. In 2017, he won the ERM leg at Gatcombe, securing Gemma the series title and earning himself the British Open Championship, too. He added just 1.2 time penalties on a day when the time was well-nigh impossible to get. Last year, he was fourth here, and then went on to act as pathfinder for the gold-medal-winning British team in Tryon.
The ex-racehorse has been lovingly referred to as ‘totally crazy’ by Gemma, who has to ask for silence from the audience to get a good test from him, and when he goes across the country, he really goes. But he’s not stupid, and his sense of self-preservation extends to his rider, too — at Burghley 2017, Gemma was battling a serious chest infection all week and Arctic Soul stepped up to the plate. These two have an incredible relationship, wrought from time, patience, and a similar gutsy tunnel-vision, and we can’t help but feel that it’s their time to graduate from bridesmaids to brides.
Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4
Twelve-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Perigueux x Rita). Owned by Clive Smith.
A tactical, slow clear around Badminton last year set Pamero up for a blinding season, culminating in second place at Pau after delivering the only FOD of the event.
Produced by Laura Collett, Pamero 4 moved to Gemma’s yard in 2017. Laura’s last run on the horse was at his five-star debut at Pau in 2016, but he fell on course. He’s had an exciting couple of seasons with Gemma, with ten international runs, seven top ten finishes, a second at Barbury’s ERM, as well as that stonking Pau result. He’ll be a high-20s horse in the first phase — he earned a 27.4 at Badminton and a 29.9 at Pau — and Gemma will pick up the pace this time around.
Pamero is a funny character — he’s a seriously picky eater and does best living outside most of the time with Sooty, his ancient Shetland pony companion, who keeps him in his happy place and stops him from worrying. Gemma has pulled out all the stops when it comes to managing this tricky horse, and as a result, she knows him almost better than she knows himself, which is a great position to be in coming into a five-star. Slightly less great is the crashing fall that the pair took early on course in Belton’s Grantham Cup – both escaped injury, but to have tumbled at an innocuous fence like that might provoke a bit of a re-think of the horse’s pre-Badminton prep. For an icy-veined competitor like Gemma, though, this could be a peculiar positive – it might allow her to fine-tune how she manages the horse and coax his best out of him.
Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May
Twelve-year-old KWPN mare (Hamar x Marijke). Owned by Tom Strong.
Maggie’s last international run was at Pau last season, and she made it a good one: she finished eleventh, and was the only one of Izzy’s three rides to complete the competition. That was her five-star debut, and a result that becomes all the more impressive when you consider that Izzy doesn’t actually ride the mare every day. Instead, she lives with her owner, Tom, who produced her to Intermediate and still does much of the day-to-day schooling.
The shining star on Maggie’s international record was her win at Tattersalls CCI4*-L last year, which she accomplished with a 28.5 FOD. Pau aside, where she posted an uncharacteristic 37.5, she’s becoming a seriously strong performer in each phase – and now that she’s made her level debut, Izzy will know just how much she can push the mare. Watch out.
Izzy Taylor and Springpower
Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Power Blade xx x April Imperator). Owned by Andrea and Jeremy Brereton and Linda Mars.
Originally produced by Lucy Jackson and then passed along to Jodie Amos, Springpower joined Izzy’s string in mid-2017 and quickly made the step up to CCI4*-S, debuting at the level in Blenheim’s hot eight- and nine-year-old class. He finished seventh, adding just three time faults to his dressage score of 33.8. He went a few better in the same class last year, finishing a close second to Laura Collett’s winner London 52. Then, he went to Boekelo CCI4*-L, where he was eighth.
But it hasn’t all been fun and games, necessarily – the talented young horse can be quite cheeky in the dressage, and the buzzy atmosphere at Badminton could exacerbate this. He’s proven to be tough and fast across the country, although he did fall at Bramham last season. His showjumping is a bit of a weak point; he’s likely to have a rail. But for all that, he’s an exciting horse for Izzy, and will be very interesting to watch around his first five-star.
Ginny Thompson and Star Nouveau
Fifteen-year-old mare (Goldstar x Fiesta Star). Owned by Elaine Butterworth, Anthony Quirk, and the rider.
Thompson and Star Nouveau finished eighth in their first four-star at Adelaide in 2017, before 26-year-old Thompson sold her entire string and business back home to be based with fellow Kiwi Blyth Tait in the UK. They contested Badminton last spring, finishing in 40th place after a broken pin and 22 showjumping penalties knocked them down the order. But they were relatively speedy — they only clocked up 15.6 time penalties on the Saturday, which shows that there’s plenty more to come if they can polish the first and third phases.
The duo has completed four international competitions since Badminton, with promising progress shown – they’ve dropped their dressage scores by a fair few marks, as evidenced at Burghley, where they produced a 36.5, well down from their 43.6 at Badminton. But Burghley was an early finisher for them: they withdrew after a cross-country in which they clocked up twenty penalties. They’ll be out for redemption this spring.
Mark Todd and NZB Campino
Seventeen-year-old gelding (Contendro x Pinkus). Owned by Sir Peter Vela.
Unusually, Toddy brings forward just one horse this year, and it’s the gorgeous NZB Campino who gets the honour. We last saw him at Burghley last year, where he finished eighteenth in a hot field. The year prior he tackled two five-stars – Pau, in October, was a bit of a bust, and he retired on course, but at Badminton that spring he was fourth. He’s also been ninth at Burghley, tenth at Pau, and fifth at Luhmühlen – and in the twilight of his competitive career and, perhaps, the twilight of Toddy’s, we could be treated to something wonderful.
Five-time Burghley winner, four-time Badminton winner, and FEI rider of the 20th century, Toddy is no slouch – but his recent foray back into racing proves that he has his fingers in a few pies, and it may be that he’s pushing for a top finish on which to wrap up his eventing career. (Or, you know, we could be wrong, and Toddy might just keep going and going – we’d be delighted to be proven wrong!) He’s come close a few times – if nothing else, expect another masterclass in classic cross-country riding. Hopefully with both stirrups.
Kazuma Tomoto and Tacoma d’Horset
Twelve-year-old Selle Français mare (Sandreo x Palm Beach d’Horset). Owned by the Japan Racing Association.
Japan’s eventers aren’t just phenomenally talented – they’re also savvy and resourceful, as well as being endlessly hard-working. We’re now just a year and change away from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which ought to be where we see them peak – but that doesn’t mean you should take your eyes off any of them now.
Kazuma, who has been based with William Fox-Pitt since mid-2017, is the second of Japan’s two entrants at Badminton this year, and he’s one we’ll be watching very closely indeed. His aim this year is to qualify all four of his enviable string of top horses for Tokyo, and although new ride Vinci de la Vigne might be the biggest talking point of the four, it’s WEG mount Tacoma d’Horset that we’ll get to enjoy at Badminton. Tacoma blazed around that tough Tryon track last year, adding absolutely nothing in the influential cross-country phase, and ultimately finished just outside the top twenty. Not bad, frankly, for a horse with only four CCI4*-S events and a single CCI4*-L under her belt. This year, she’s come out and made easy work of Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S. Her dressage is a little bit of a weak spot at the moment – she can get high-20s scores, but tends more towards the low-to-mid 30s – but she’s a real cross-country machine, with no faults on her record above the CCI3*-L level. Kazu, too, just keeps getting better and better – lest we forget, he only picked up eventing less than four years ago, on the prompting of his national federation.
Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class
Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Kilderry Place). Owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop, and Val Ryan.
Ultra-talented but ultra-sharp and tricky, Thomas went from flying completely under the radar to winning Burghley practically with his eyes shut on his five-star debut in 2017.
What’s perhaps most exciting about Thomas is that even after he won here, Oliver admitted that the horse was still ‘babyish’ in many ways — the dressage wasn’t yet quite established, and the atmosphere in the main arena had the ability to slightly pull his focus off his job. His jumping style, too, was still green — he jumped big to make up for the fact that he hadn’t yet learned to jump economically. But discovering your capabilities over a course like Burghley, and then taking the winter holidays to mull over all you’ve learned, is the making of a tempestuous talent like Thomas.
He was fifth at Badminton last year after that astonishing, record-equalling 20.8 dressage test, proving that the first phase is very much established now. He looked to tire on cross-country — leading to, perhaps, one of the bigger talking points of the first half of the season — but looked fresh and well on the final day, unfortunately pulling two rails to drop out of contention for the very top spot. Oliver took a tumble from him at Aachen, but they regrouped and won Burgham CCI4*-S the following week, lest anyone murmur that they’d lost their touch. They were then part of Oliver’s total domination of Blair Castle CCI4*-S before heading to Burghley yet again, finishing second to another Price.
“I’ve had him since the word go, and he’s been tricky — I still gave to be careful with him when he’s fresh! — but with extreme talent come the quirks,” said Oliver after his second Burghley placing with the horse. Oliver, who admits that he’s often guilty of “keeping my head down and staying quiet”, has a special place in his heart for the gorgeous grey.
“He has the main box in the yard. It doesn’t matter which window I’m looking out of; I can always see Thomas, even from the bathroom! He’s the first horse I look at in the morning and the last horse I see at night. He’s as special a horse as I’ve ever ridden.”
This is a very, very safe bet for a top placing, and if nothing else, we can’t wait to see the difference in Thomas over all three phases. The development of a young horse like this is very nearly as exciting as the major victories — we just hope he’s stopped lawn-darting the grooms across the gallops. His win in Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S will set him up nicely for a great run.
Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo
Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (S. Creevagh Ferro x Willow Garden). Owned by Sally-Anne Egginton.
It surprised us to see Gary on the entry list for Pau last year, and it surprises us to see him here now – of all Oliver’s horses, he’s the one who’s proven to be the most consistent and competitive CCI4*-S competitor.
Cillnabradden Evo has been in Oliver’s string since late 2015 — he took the horse on after Andrew Nicholson’s major injury at Gatcombe Park. Before Pau, he hasn’t done a CCI since Saumur in 2016, where he finished fifth, but had been a serious campaigner around CCI4*-S events, contesting five Event Rider Masters legs and coming 1st or 2nd in seven of his previous eleven internationals. The thirteen-year-old Irish gelding won Baborowko CCI4*-S last year after finishing second at Wiesbaden ERM, and he was second at Blair’s ERM finale, too.
He’s a serious low-to-mid 20s dressage horse, although he pulled an incredible 19 out of the bag at Gatcombe’s British Open Championships last year and set a new PB of 18.9 in an Advanced section at Weston Park this month. Gatcombe’s not been a happy hunting ground for the horse, though, and the British Open was no exception — he retired on course. He was withdrawn before cross country at Barbury’s ERM after pulling an exceptionally uncharacteristic five poles — the horse is an out-and-out showjumper normally and hadn’t had a pole since 2014, but since then he’s had three runs and not a single showjumping clear. He also had a 20 at Arville over a tough course, which was a real surprise. And then there was Pau: he led the dressage on a remarkable 22.7 but left a leg at the first of the formidable swans after the final water. Though Gary stayed upright, he swiftly deposited Oliver on the floor, putting paid to his chances of taking another five-star victory with a debutante. This spring, he’s come out all guns blazing, taking an easy win in a CCI4*-S section at Burnham Market on a new record finishing score.
Our verdict? The same as it ever was, really: if Oliver does bring Gary forward, he’ll either win, or they won’t complete. There is no middle ground.
Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class
Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x The Swallow). Owned by Angela Hislop.
Oliver has four horses entered and can ride two – but Cooley Master Class, known as Coolio, makes the weeding-out process a bit easier. He’s been cross-entered for a little event in Kentucky, which he, you know, won last year. So there’s that.
Gorgeous Coolio was a horse who defied the odds, really – it’s not that he hadn’t shown signs of brilliant talent, because he had, but he seemed rather a fragile sort of horse. Long stints out of action and a plethora of withdrawals made it seem like he might not even make it to the start box at his first five-star. But once again, Oliver proved that he knows his horses inside out, and although he has two recent withdrawals on his record again – Blair CCI4*-S last summer and Belton CCI4*-S last month – those were both events where Oliver did batch withdrawals of most, if not all, his horses.
It would be great fun to watch Coolio tackle Badminton, but we won’t – not this year, anyway. He’s found his happiest hunting ground, and it’ll be a tough job for anyone who wants to try to beat him there.
Oliver Townend and Ulises
Twelve-year-old Spanish Sport Horse (Fines xx x Emeraude du Pontet). Owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon.
The fourth of Townend’s myriad entries is young gun Ulises, who is a half-brother to Nereo and came from the same Spanish farm as his Badminton-winning relative. Oliver’s great friend Andrew Nicholson also produced this horse through to the CCI4*-L level, giving the ride over after this accident at Gatcombe. Since then, Oliver and Ulises have totted up nine internationals together, and have finished in the top ten in six of them.
Their best result so far was a win in a CCI4*-S section at Chatsworth last season, but they looked impressive at Blenheim CCI4*-L, too. They added nothing to their 28 dressage on cross-country day, and it looked as though they might win the whole thing – but three rails down put paid to that idea, and they finished 19th overall.
This interesting horse is ready for his step up to the big-time, and probably would have made it earlier if it weren’t for the fact that Oliver is currently enjoying his best ever string of horses. With every chance to be enormously competitive at the big events, the ‘second string’ will be taking a back seat – but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll choose to chance it with Gary or give the debutante a run instead.
Nicola Wilson and Bulana
Thirteen-year-old KWPN mare (Tygo x Sulana). Owned by James and Jo Lambert.
The gorgeous Berry is indubitably talented, but she hasn’t always been an easy ride – early on in her CCI4* (formerly three-star) career, she was a bit of a tearaway, and the general consensus was that once she was manageable, she’d be damn near unbeatable. True enough, she’s picked up a slew of very respectable results since deciding to play nice, including a win in Barbury CCI4*-S last season and individual bronze at the 2017 European Championships at Strzegom, where they contributed enormously to the British team’s historic gold medal.
But even now, Berry isn’t the most straightforward horse – she was taken off the long list for a spot on the WEG squad after a minor injury put her out of action last season. In fact, we haven’t seen her in an international since that Barbury win, and she’s only had one national run in that time: she finished fifth in an OI at Oasby last month, but was subsequently withdrawn from her two AI entries.
This will be a third five-star for the mare, who finished second in her debut at the level at Luhmühlen in 2017. She revisited the event last season, delivering a great first-phase score of 27.5, but was retired on course after two stops. Her dressage is consistently competitive, but it would be fair to expect her to be a bit rusty across the country – but on her day, Badminton’s beefy track is well within her capabilities.
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