One Horse Spun and Three Withdrawals at MARS Badminton Final Horse Inspection

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s always remarkable just how many people pitch up to watch Sunday morning’s early final horse inspection at the MARS Badminton Horse Trials. Unfazed by an unsociable waking hour, nor by the unique kind of fatigue that sets in after a long day of walking around a cross-country course and breathlessly following the action, they arrive in droves, packing the stands, sprawling across the grass, and, really, really unnervingly, spontaneously bursting into loud laughter.

Our best guess is that they were all equipped with Badminton Radio earpieces, which must have been broadcasting heretofore unheard levels of sass, but for those us without the radio on the go, it was a bit like this: a rider and their horse would appear, grim-faced with determination after a long evening of icing and maintenance and very little sleep, probably nursing a zesty little hangover from last night’s lakeside party. They would square up to meet the ground jury, comprised of president Sandy Phillips, Christian Steiner, and Jane Hamlin, and, once given the nod, they’d step forward to begin their presentation. And then, the laughter would begin, rippling through the crowd and swiftly gaining in decibels, while the person on show no doubt felt a shiver of panic that perhaps they’d tucked their skirt into the back of their knickers after a quick trip to the loo. In all, a weird sort of experience for everybody, frankly.

Harry Mutch and HD Bronze. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But it wasn’t all laughs at the front facade of Badminton House. Two horses were sent to the holding box throughout the course of proceedings, and neither will proceed to showjumping: Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy, who delivered the best round of their partnership yesterday to climb from 53rd to 13th place, opted to withdraw from the box, while Harry Mutch and HD Bronze, who were thrilled to log their first five-star clear round and sat 29th overnight, re-presented but were not accepted into the competition.

Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our field is further thinned by two withdrawals ahead of the horse inspection. Those came from yesterday’s pathfinders, Tom Jackson and Farndon, who were 14th overnight, and Helen Martin and Andreas, who were 37th. Tom will now ride just one horse today – 2022 Burghley runner-up Capels Hollow Drift, with whom he sits eighth.

That gives us a final field of 37 horses and riders to tackle Phillip Kelvin Bywater’s showjumping track. The first seventeen of these will jump from 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST) in the main arena, while the top twenty will head to battle from 2.55 p.m. (9.55 a.m. EST), following a parade of competitors and a band display over lunch.

It’s going to be a particularly exciting day in the office, because much of our top ten is peppered with horses with varying showjumping form. Overnight leaders Tim Price and Vitali are on two-phase score of 31.7, giving them just a 1.3 penalty margin over second-placed William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht – that’s three seconds in hand, but nothing more. William, for his part, has a rail in hand over third-placed five-star debutant and one-horse rider Lucy Latta and her RCA Patron Saint, who became overnight superstars after producing the fastest round of the day yesterday. Fourth-placed Emily King and Valmy Biats are 6.3 penalties away from the lead, which translates in real-world terms to a rail and six seconds, but they’re the best-rated jumpers at the business end of the field, and our pals at EquiRatings tell us that William has the highest win chance today. That would certainly be a poignant finish: William has floated the idea that this may be his last Badminton, and finishing on a victory would be extraordinarily sweet. He’s previously won here twice, in 2004 and 2015, and he’s the rider with the most five-star wins in eventing history, with fourteen to his credit so far.

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But will it be that simple? After all, Grafennacht had three rails down here last year, though the ground conditions were more testing and horses were certainly more tired on the final day than they can feasibly be expected to be today. Leaders Tim and Vitali are achingly familiar with the three-rail round, too – they’ve done just that in all four of their previous five-stars, and at the Tokyo Olympics, but have been hard at work jumping in Spain over the winter. Lucy Latta had three rails apiece in three of her five FEI runs last season; in the other two, she had one rail. But her sole FEI run this season before Badminton saw her jump clear, and she’s spent five weeks this spring based with her cousin and coach Esib Power, who has show jumped at the top level alongside her own five-star eventing career, so we could be about to see the result of that intensive boot camp in action. Emily and Valmy have had just one rail in an FEI class since Pau in 2022, but that rail did come at a five-star: they tipped it at Burghley last season.

The very best five-stars are the ones that throw up new stories and great leaps up the leaderboard on each day of competition. Yesterday was one of those days, and we suspect today may well be one of them, too. Keep it locked onto EN for live updates throughout today’s competition, and a full report of everything that went down, with insights from the riders, once we’ve crowned our 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials champion. Until then: Go Eventing.

The top ten after cross-country at the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Timing & Scoring] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

4.5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments