Badminton, Day One: Oliver Leads Overnight; Caroline Powell Best After the Break

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though we saw a hot line-up of horses and riders after the lunch break today at Badminton, no one could quite topple those lofty morning scores – and as a result, our top three remains exactly as it was as we went into the lunch break, with Oliver Townend holding onto the top spot with Swallow Springs (23.2), Gemma Stevens sitting second with Jalapeno (23.3), and Tim Price rounding out the top three with Vitali (27.1).

The star of the afternoon sessions, though, slotted neatly into fourth: New Zealand’s Caroline Powell has, perhaps, been lacking in truly competitive five-star horses since the glory days of Lenamore, with whom she won Burghley in 2010, but it’s been impossible to ignore the upward trajectory of young upstart Greenacres Special Cavalier over the last couple of years. From her days in the young horse classes at Le Lion d’Angers, which hosts the Six- and Seven-Year-Old World Championships, she’s been pipped as a Paris prospect — and since she made her step up to five-star at Pau last year, finishing fifth as just a nine-year-old, there’s been no denying that she’s the real deal. The Irish-bred mare is a tough little tank of a horse, but where those types can sometimes find themselves having to climb through the rankings over a weekend, ‘Cavvy’ is just as proficient on the flat as she is over fences. She roundly proved that today, delivering a smart and professional test to post a 27.4 — three-tenths of a point better than her single previous five-star start.

“It’s all always been there with her, but it’s taken a while to connect her because she’s so long — she’s in different counties sometimes,” laughs Caroline. “But she’s got a really good head, and the main thing we’ve tried not to do is change the length of her — we tried that once and she got a bit fiery, so we’ve learned to leave her where she’s comfortable. That’s actually the way you need to produce her — whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know!”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though a big horse like Cavvy isn’t always the quickest to produce — “there’s certainly room for everyone on her,” jokes Caroline — it’s that brain that sets her apart, and even with their excellent Pau result behind them, Caroline is treating Badminton as another rung in the ladder for the horse’s long-term career.

“We just went [to Pau] to sort of see what we’ve got and to be honest, we’re here to see what we’ve got as well,” she says. “She’s been an absolute joy to produce right the way through; I got her as a four year old and here she is. She just loves it, and she’s really enjoying the work, so long may it continue! She’s done a really nice test, so that’s one box ticked — and who knows what’s going to happen on Sunday. It’s a big course, and there’s a lot to jump out there, and if she goes out and does well, that’s great.”

Tom Jackson, fourth at the lunch break, now moves to fifth overnight with Capels Hollow Drift (28), while Harry Meade slips down a notch to sixth with Away Cruising (29).

Rosalind Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Ros Canter, who rode her test this morning with Pencos Crown Jewel, now sits seventh overnight on a good score of 29.2 in the mare’s third five-star — though with prior scores of 24.2 at last year’s Burghley and 27.1 at Bicton in 2021, she was disappointed to lose marks in the flying changes and miss out on the kind of score the mare ordinarily produces.

“The quality of work that she’s doing this year is by far superior to what she’s done before,” she says. “She’s struggled a bit with her balance — she’s quite croup-high, so most of the time we’ve done dressage tests she’s been quite heavy on the hand, and the last couple of times out she’s felt amazing. She did today, but unfortunately, every single change didn’t come for us today, which has always been a little bit of a bugbear — but recently we’ve been quite good at them, so that was a little bit frustrating.”

Those changes, which earned scores between 4s and 6.5s, were the only low point in an otherwise polished performance.

“I didn’t really get any how I wanted them in there, but her brain was great, and her quality of work was, I think, exceptional,” says Ros. “So if we’d nailed the changes, I think we wouldn’t have been that  far off the low 20s — so there’s lots of exciting things to come.”

Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Another two morning riders follow her on the leaderboard: Kirsty Chabert, looking no worse for wear after catching the Monday night red-eye back from Kentucky, delivered a 29.3 with Opposition Loire in the 12-year-old mare’s five-star debut, besting many of her four-star performances, while Izzy Taylor put a 29.6 on the board with five-star sophomore Happy Days, eclipsing the eleven-year-old’s previous five-star mark of 31.7, earned at Pau last year.

“It’s her first time doing a test in any sort of atmosphere, so I’m pretty chuffed,” says Kirsty, who, like many British riders, has found herself short of runs this year — and so that trip to Kentucky, where she finished 21st with Classic VI, has been a welcome pipe-opener. “I think come Sunday morning, it’ll all feel familiar, because that was just a week ago. I’m not sure it would have been a pleasant experience with all the nerves, having just run at a couple of Open Intermediates! But with this horse in particular, I’ll do as I feel is correct for her on the day, and take it step by step, really.”

Izzy Taylor and Happy Days. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

For Izzy, keeping her horse’s focus on the task at hand was her primary job for today — and that box was one she was delighted to have ticked between the boards this morning.

“It’s his second five-star, but it’s actually only his fourth three-day event, so for him to come here and keep his brain as well as he did, I was really pleased,” she says. “He’s a lovely horse, and he tries so hard — a little too hard, sometimes, as he demonstrated with his second change! He’s got loads more to come: he’s not old, he hasn’t done a lot, and [he got a score like that] without a ‘clear round’, so that’s really exciting.”

Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

France’s Gireg le Coz rounds out the top ten overnight with Aisprit de la Loge, with whom he finished in the top twenty here last spring. They didn’t quite catch the 26.7 they posted on that occasion, but their 29.7 will put them well in the mix come Sunday’s cross-country — something Gireg is particularly grateful for after a tricky start to the week.

“He was very good, I think — he’s been very tense since he arrived here; maybe he knows where he is,” says Gireg with a smile. “But he was very professional today. I missed a change at the end, and normally he’s very good at them, and we didn’t get great marks in the trot — just average — but the horse, I’m pleased with. He’s a big mover with a lot of energy, but it’s not about dressage only — it’s very big out there [on cross-country]. But I do feel confident, because now I know we can do it, and I couldn’t be on a better horse.”

Katherine Coleman and Monbeg Senna. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

We’ve got just two US entrants this year, and the first of them — Katherine Coleman with her five-star debutant Monbeg Senna — delivered a test near the end of proceedings today, earning themselves a 31 and provisional fourteenth place in Katherine’s first Badminton since 2017. Their score, notably, is also the horse’s second best ever international score — the best, a 29.8 at Gatcombe Park, came when he was still at two-star level.

“I’m over the moon with him,” beams Katherine. “With the lack of runs and practice, and being as fit as they are, he’s been a mentalist. So coming into this test, I was like, ‘oh my god, I just hope I stay between the boards!’ He’s been bucking in his changes and flying around — but he went in there and did super changes. I couldn’t be more proud of him!”

Even just before entering at A, Katherine wasn’t totally convinced it was all going to come off: “I wasn’t sure what to expect, because usually he’s one of those horses who comes out really hot like a dragon, and then ten minutes in he’s like, ‘I’m exhausted — carry me!’ But I haven’t gotten to the exhausted point yet; he’s just been getting hotter and hotter, and there were a lot of pre-rides involved!”

Tomorrow takes us into day two of the dressage here at Badminton, though it’s a funny, fractured sort of schedule, due to the late morning break for the coronation of King Charles: dressage will begin an hour earlier, at 8 a.m. BST (3.00 a.m. EST), starting with Aaron Millar and KEC Deakon, and will wrap up for the morning after the test of Canada’s Mike Winter and El Mundo, which will begin at 10.07 a.m. BST (5.07 a.m. EST). We’ll then resume proceedings from 13.00 BST (8.00 a.m. EST) with Emily King and Valmy Biats, before closing play after the final test, that of Maryland 5* winners Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin, at 15.26 BST (10.26 a.m. EST). As always, keep it locked on to EN for all the news and updates; tune in on Badminton TV to follow the action live; and stay tuned for much more from Badminton! Until next time: Go Eventing!

The top ten at the end of the first day of dressage.

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