The Event of a Lifetime: Your Juicy Great Big Guide to the Competitors in Badminton’s 2022 Revival

It’s a curious feeling, isn’t it? In some ways, it feels like decades since we last stepped foot onto the hallowed grounds of the Badminton estate, all aflutter with pre-competition butterflies and brimming with the excitement of knowing that just about any story could unfold over the next few days. On the other hand, it also feels like just yesterday; like this long, painful, endless pandemic hasn’t torn us away from some of the best parts of our sport. It’s a bit like a homecoming, but you hadn’t really left home, you’d just been locked in the back garden for two years. (Actually, I think that’s classed as animal abuse in most states, so maybe not.)

Anywho, enough about our muddle of emotions: Badminton week is here, we’re back in the thick of things, we’re battered and bruised and a little worn out from the (figurative) journey back here, but we’ve never been more excited to crack on with a week of five-star excitement. And before it all begins, we want to introduce you to our field of competitors, which we think might just be the very best ever. Settle in, pour yourself a livener, and meet all 86 horse-and-rider combinations coming forward at this week’s Badminton Horse Trials, presented by MARS Equestrian. As you scroll, you’ll find out which riders are true amateurs, chasing their dreams alongside demanding careers; which horses have previously won five-stars (all except Maryland is represented in this field!); which debutant horse is very closely related to the 2019 champion; which horse only started eventing in 2019, and much, much more. You’ll also find analysis of each pair’s competitive form, performance predictions for the week ahead, fun facts, and breeding info. Oh, and we’ve gone ahead and put them all in drawn order for you, so if you want to read along as you watch them on screen, you’ll find it very easy to do so.

Brace yourself, baby: Badminton’s back, and we’ve got one heck of a week ahead of us.

EN’s coverage of Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, is brought to you in part by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.

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Click any combination below to jump directly to their bit!

3: Kristy Chabert and Classic VI
4: Padraig McCarthy and Fallulah
5: Joseph Murphy and Cesar V
7: Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser
8: William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II
9: Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin
10: Ros Canter and Allstar B
14: Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs
15: Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On
18: Bill Levett and Lassban Diamond Lift
19: Piggy March and Vanir Kamira
20: Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby
22: Phillip Dutton and Z
25: Bundy Philpott and Tresca NZPH
26: Tamie Smith and Mai Baum
28: Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue
29: Rose Nesbitt and EG Michaelangelo
30: Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan
31: Elizabeth Power and Soladoun
32: Amanda Pottinger and Just Kidding
33: Cathal Daniels and Barrichello
34: Sarah Ennis and Woodcourt Garrison
35: Arianna Schivo and Quefira de l’Ormeau
36: James Sommerville and Talent WITHDRAWN
37: Ben Hobday and Shadow Man II
38: Helen Wilson and My Ernie
39: Tom Rowland and Possible Mission
40: Christoph Waller and Carjatan S
42: Sofia Sjoborg and DHI Mighty Dwight
43: Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden
44: Kitty King and Vendredi Biats
47: Hector Payne and Dynasty
48: Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way
49: Fiona Kashel and Creevagh Silver de Haar
50: Felicity Collins and RSH Contend OR
51: Emily King and Valmy Biats
52: Jonelle Price and Classic Moet
53: Alice Casburn and Topspin
54: James Rushbrooke and Milchem Eclipse
55: Matt Flynn and Wizzerd
56: Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet
61: Hazel Shannon and Willingapark Clifford
62: Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati and DSP Cosma
64: Dom Schramm and Bolytair B
65: Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes
66: Susie Berry and John the Bull
67: Maxime Livio and Vitorio du Montet
68: Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun
69: Mike Winter and El Mundo
70: Laura Collett and London 52
71: Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II
72: Libby Seed and Heartbreaker Star Quality
73: Bubby Upton and Cola III
74: Greg le Coz and Alsprit de la Loge
75: Clare Abbott and Jewelent
77: Arthur Duffort and Toronto d’Aurois
78: Tom Carlile and Zanzibar Villa Rose Z
79: Tina Cook and Billy The Red WITHDRAWN
80: Cedric Lyard and Unum De’Or
81: Joris Vanspringel and Creator GS
82: Cyrielle Lefevre and Armanjo Serosah
84: Becky Heappey and DHI Babette K
85: Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy
86: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy
87: Arthur Chabert and Goldsmiths Imber
88: Richard Jones and Alfies Clover
90: Alex Bragg and King of the Mill
91: Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB
92: Ugo Provassi and Shadd’OCC
Jean Lou Bigot and Utrillo du Halage
95: Emily Hamel and Corvett
97: Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift
98: Selina Milnes and Iron IV
99: Lauren Innes and Global Fision M
101: Harry Meade and Away Cruising
103: Padraig McCarthy and HHS Noble Call
104: Nicola Wilson and Erano M
105: William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire
106: Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo
111: Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street
113: David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed
115: Tom McEwen and CHF Cooliser
117: Bill Levett and Lates Quin
118: Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do

Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

3: Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Calvaro F.C. x India Summer, breeding unknown). Owned by John Johnston and Carole Somers. 

This will be Kirsty’s first time back at Badminton since 2016, when she won the best British first-timer prize with Opposition Detective, and this time, the gang’s all here: her husband, Arthur, is also entered and will compete for France. Wars have been started over less, but we’re pretty sure they’ve got the dynamic sussed and sorted.

Kirsty and Classic VI are an exciting duo who have felt on the cusp of a great result for a long time. Most notably, they very nearly won Aachen last year, but as so often happens to runners in the top spot, they had a run-out at the final combination before the main arena. We’ve seen some of the world’s most prolific superstars do the same thing early on in their career – London 52, for example, had the exact same issue in 2019 – so we won’t hold it against them. We’ve seen them out at Thoresby CCI4*-S for a steady prep run this spring, where they finished in 53rd place, and then they headed to Burnham Market, where they withdrew after dressage.

Their dressage scores can be pretty variable: we’ve seen them dip sub-30 at four-star (at Aachen, no less), but they more often hit the mid-to-high 30s. Classic has become a much quicker horse across the country over the last couple of seasons, and though she’s picked up the odd blip, their performances over the last year have looked confident and direct. Their showjumping, too, is on the up and up, and after a spate of rails, they delivered five consecutive clears at FEI events through 2021.

It arguably doesn’t affect her performance stats, as that event featured rather more obstacle courses than actual fences, but Kirsty and Classic also won the ‘Virtual Eventing’ faux Badminton in 2020, an online event that raised over £150,000 for medical charities at the onset of the pandemic. We reckon that earns her some good Badminton juju.

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Padraig McCarthy and Fallulah. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

4: Padraig McCarthy and Fallulah (IRE)

Thirteen-year-old Westphalian mare (Fidertanz 2 x Devona, by Di Versace). Owned by Amanda and Nicholas Boyle, Di Brunsden, Peter Cattell, and the rider.

Gutsy, elegant Fallulah made her five-star debut at Pau last year, and as she headed into the final day, it looked not at all implausible that she could win it – but an unfortunate four rails dropped her and Devon-based Padraig from second to seventeenth place.

The showjumping has always been something of a weak spot for the mare, who was initially campaigned by Ian Wills, who then retained ownership after Emily Philp took over the ride up to four-star. Fallulah was sold and joined WEG team and individual silver medallist Padraig’s string in mid-2019, and has looked on the cusp of some big results throughout that time – but it hasn’t really come together across all three phases yet, and her tendency to take a couple of rails has proven costly on several occasions.

Still, there’s no denying her talent, nor that of her rider, and the pair have taken last year constructively, emerging this season to take third in a CCI4*-L at Montelibretti with just one rail down.

“She’s always been a very extravagant mover, but the thing we’ve been trying to get with her is the consistency in the outline and in the way of going,” Padraig told EN at Pau last year after delivering a 24.9, a best-ever international score for both horse and rider. “I struggled a little bit at the beginning just to make her my own, I think, but this year she’s been getting better and better in training with Tracy Robinson. She’s a real trier and she’s absolutely stunning, so the judges want to give her good marks — the job has just been getting it to flow, and that felt really consistent. It was nice to look up at the scoreboard and see that the mark was as good as it felt.”

On paper, she’s an outlier for a top placing here, but actually, she’s quick and talented, and there’s a real chance that Padraig could nail the timing and ride the peak on the week, which would make them very competitive – and us very smug.

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Joseph Murphy and Cesar V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

5: Joseph Murphy and Cesar V (IRE) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Fourteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Casiro 3 x Cortina R, by Sandro). Owned by the Way Forward Syndicate.

Talented Cesar, who was produced to CCI3*-L by Germany’s Frank Ostholt and CCI4*-S by his wife, Sweden’s Sara Algotsson-Ostholt, makes his five-star debut at Badminton under the third flag of his career. Joseph has had the ride since mid-2019, when they made their international debut at Bramham CCI4*-S for eventual eleventh place. Since then, they’ve produced consistent results and are reliable across the country.

This is a gorgeous looking gelding and he’s got one of the most impressive showjumping records in the field – in fact, until Thoresby CCI4*-S this month, where he had an enormously out-of-character three rails down, he hadn’t had a pole in an FEI event since 2018, giving him 12 consecutive clears in this phase. Similarly, his cross-country record is largely unblemished; his elimination at last year’s European Championships was simply a case of bad luck, as he slipped on the flat on a patch of greasy ground, and his horse fall at Aston CCI4*-S last year was an outlier on his record. He’s run clear across the country in 25 of his 30 international starts across the level, and he’s relatively efficient, too, averaging just over 9 time penalties at four-star level. It’s his dressage that’s always a bit of a question mark: he’s been well produced and is an elegant stamp of a horse, so he’s very capable of going sub-30, and we’ve seen him do so four times at four-star level. But it’s just as common for him to tip past the mid-30s mark as well, and in a field of this caliber, even the most committed climbers will be stymied if they stray too far from the low-30s or below before the weekend. If Joseph can make it happen in his test, they stand a super chance of chasing down a top twenty.

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Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

7: Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser (GBR)

Fifteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Ariane du Prieure II). Owned by Jane Inns, Alison McEwen, and the rider.

A freak of a horse, really: Toledo de Kerser is one of the hot favourites for the win 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 in 2018. Then, they popped over the pond to that year’s WEG at Tryon, where they helped the British team to a gold medal and finished 12th individually. And since then? There was an eleventh place finish at Badminton in 2019, when they had a frustrating 11 penalties for activating a frangible, and then – finally – a first five-star victory for the pair at Pau that autumn. In 2020 they returned to France, finishing fifth, and last year, after a third place finish and a win in their two four-star prep runs, they headed to Tokyo, where they helped the British team to gold and took silver individually, too.

If our sport had bookmakers, all the odds would be pointing in this pair’s direction, because they’re on such exceptional form – and because Eric Winter has designed a track that’s so well suited to this horse, who’s one of those once-in-a-generation athletes who can excel at everything. He’s won Pau – a tight, technical, twisty track – and come close at Burghley, which is a big, bold, run-and-jump track on totally the opposite end of the spectrum. Badminton tends to fall somewhere in the middle, and this year’s course is enormously varied, so horses that can do a bit of everything will be rewarded for their efforts. It looks made for Tom and Toledo.

Toledo is consistent and flashy in the ring, scoring in the mid-20s reliably, and he’s only faulted four times across the country in his 31 internationals. On Sunday, you’ll really see the French gelding shine – he’s probably the best showjumper in this list, and has only ever knocked two rails in his international career — despite being a slightly quirky chap who doesn’t jump at home at all. Tom and his team have created a system around the horse that suits him perfectly, and they know one another as well as they know themselves at this stage. Don’t let this pair out of your sight.

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William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II. Photo by Shelby Allen.

8: William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old British-Bred Sport Horse gelding (Oslo Biats x Cinnamon Brulee, by Topanoora). Owned by the Oratorio Syndicate.

This is an exceptional horse who, on his day, could take the spoils here – but he’s not quite as consistent as Toledo before him, so it’s not quite as cut-and-dry a prospect. It’s certainly in his blood to top a five-star, though: his sire, Oslo, won Pau five-star back in 2011 with William aboard, and Oratorio has no shortage of talent.

Oratorio first stepped up to five-star in 2019, jumping clear around Badminton and finished 13th, and like many top horses, he had a quiet 2020. Last year, he headed to Kentucky, where he was putting in a seriously competitive showing — until an odd blip very late on course put him on the floor. We saw a couple of very experienced horses suffer the same fate at the same fence, and so we won’t hold that against the gelding, who was likely caught out by some odd lighting, or a slippery take-off, or some combination of factors. He headed to Bicton CCI5* in September for a second go and again, was running well — until he had a nosebleed, his first ever, mid-course. William opted to pull him up and take him home for thorough investigations, and then rerouted to Pau – where they picked up a 20 at the second water. Like Little Fire, he’s been briefly campaigned by Harry Meade during William’s leave of absence, but he’s not always as straightforward a ride as Little Fire, and they didn’t run at Thoresby CCI4*-S after a tricky test. William’s since been signed back on, and they picked up fifth place in the tough Advanced at Burnham Market.

Oratorio’s mother was a point-to-pointer, though she was known for her sheer strength and force of will perhaps more than anything else. Those attributes have shown through loud and clear in the sparky and clever Rio.

“He’s 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 told EN at Blenheim in 2018, where the pair finished second in the CCI4*-L. “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!”

Badminton in 2019 proved how classy he is, despite some excesses of enthusiasm. After his thirteenth place finish, he even made William go rather soppy on us, as he told us, “For a while I did wonder what I was doing [coming back to the sport]. But suddenly, at 50, I see a future. Who says that at 50?!”

Rio was originally produced to two-star by Laura Collett, largely because William worried he’d be small like his 15.2hh dam, and partly because William wasn’t sure how much longer he’d want to stay at the top level anyway. Since taking the reins in 2017, though, William and Rio have notched up some pretty impressive results, including a second place finish in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L in 2018. They should put a high-20s score on the board — their Bicton score was a 27, and Pau was a 27.4 — and this time, we hope to see them cross the finish line with smiles on their faces. If they do, expect them to be fighting for a placing.

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Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

9: Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Diarado x Zarinna, by Cantano). Owned by Jo and James Lambert OBE and Deirdre Johnston. 

There are debutant horses and then there’s JL Dublin, who became the European champion as a ten-year-old last year and is on extraordinary form. We often look at these first-time five-star horses as being brought out for a foundational run that’ll set them up for future successes — but a debutant win is never out of the question, and a horse like Dubs presents a formidable opponent for even the stalwart top-level runners in the field.

Let’s take a look at last year’s international wins, first of all: he and Nicola took Bicton’s CCI4*-L in June, which was the Bramham replacement event and a seriously tough, terrain-heavy challenge that rode more like a five-star – and had a whopping 112 entrants. That was just his second run at the level; he’d finished tenth in his debut at Burnham Market’s admittedly soft Blenheim replacement the autumn prior. Then, before being selected for the European Championships team, they won the Hartpury CCI4*-S, a significant test for the level that’s always designed to act as a feeder event for Burghley. The next month, they became the European Champions in a real fairytale ending to an extraordinary year for the gelding and his kind, hard-working rider who has been such a great contributor to British efforts over the years. That they were also nominated for a spot on the British Olympic team, though ultimately weren’t selected, is further testament to the enormous talent of this pair.

Across Dubs’s exceptional FEI career, he’s notched up 13 top-ten finishes from 20 runs, has only ever faulted twice across the country, has romped home inside the time in 50% of his runs, and has scored sub-30 14 times. He was fifth in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship in 2018, so has been consistent and competitive from the word go, and because Nicola has had him since she found him at the Holsteiner sales as a four-year-old, they know one another almost better than they know themselves. We’ll be expecting a competitive, sub-30 start to the week, which should put them in the top 25 post-dressage, and though he’s relatively inexperienced, a quick clear with all the direct routes is absolutely within the gelding’s grasp. They should jump clear on Sunday and fight for their spot in the top ten — or better.

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Ros Canter and Allstar B. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

10: Ros Canter and Allstar B (GBR)

Seventeen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Ephebe For Ever x Narenca B, by Ekstein). Owned by Caroline Moore and the rider.

How good is this Badminton field, exactly? Well, you’ve got the reigning European Champions and the reigning World Champions drawn back-to-back, plus every single member of the gold medal winning British Olympic team, and nine five-star winning combinations representing almost every single global five-star (just Maryland is missing from the roster). Not too shabby, right?

Ros and ‘Albie’, of course, are your current World Champions, a crown they’ve worn since 2018. Though she be but little, she is fierce: tiny Ros Canter doesn’t quite make 5’2, and Alby is just shy of 17.2hh, so they may not seem the best-matched pair, but they’ve proven that opposites really do attract. Beyond that World Championship title, they’ve also finished fifth here in 2017 and third in 2018, and they were fifth individually at the European Championships in 2017, where they won team gold. But though they’re among the most experienced combinations in this field, they’ve actually had a bit of a slow couple of years, in part due to the pandemic and also, significantly, because much of their 2021 was taken up by Tokyo prep. They were travelling reserves for the British team, and so had to follow all the lead-up protocol, but then travelled to Tokyo and didn’t run, so effectively built up for nothing – a necessary part of the job sometimes, but one that makes it very hard to get the flow back for subsequent competitions. We then saw them travel to Avenches as part of the team for the European Championships, but it didn’t go to plan: the twisty track didn’t suit Albie, and the tricky build-up didn’t help him, either, and he picked up a hugely uncharacteristic 40 penalties across the country. They were his first FEI penalties since 2016.

This year, though, Ros has him feeling himself again, and he looked in fine fettle at Thoresby CCI4*-S, where he finished 13th in a very hot field. They’ll deliver a competitive mid 20s score on Thursday – though their 20.6 at Avenches and a 19.7 in Burgham’s CCI4*-S in 2020 could be a harbinger of a real scorcher of a mark – and we’ll be looking to them to deliver their typical fast, gutsy clear in the slipped-rein, get-‘er-done style that team coach Chris Bartle helped them develop. They’re very reliable on Sunday, too, and will certainly pose a real threat at the top end of the leaderboard.

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Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

14: Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs (GBR)

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Chillout x Kilila, by Cult Hero). Owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon.

When Kiwi legend (and 2017 Badminton winner) Andrew Nicholson announced his retirement from top-level eventing at the end of last season, there was one question on everyone’s lips: who would get the ride on the excellent Swallow Springs, with whom he’d finished third at Burghley and fifth at Badminton? The answer was written in the entries: Andrew’s old friend Oliver made his FEI debut that week at Blenheim with the great grey gelding, who’s known at home as Chill, and their 10th place finish in the CCI4*-L set the tone for some very promising things to come.

Their partnership is a very young one, but both are enormously established separately and Oliver’s style and ethos of riding wouldn’t be dissimilar to Andrew’s, so it’s little surprise that they’ve been able to gel quickly and hit the ground running. That ambitious early four-star was followed by a fruitful winter of training and relationship-building, and this spring, we’ve seen them take the win in their prep run at Burnham Market CCI4*-S. Oliver has five entries to choose from, but it’s almost certain that his two greys will get the final call-up — and though the brevity of their partnership makes them something of an outlier for the win, they actually stand a pretty damn good chance of catching it. Don’t expect a leading dressage score — their mid-to-high-20s performance will put them in a competitive spot, but not ahead of the likes of Tamie Smith and Mai Baum — but look to them to produce a seriously exciting round across the country. It’ll be Sunday that could be the heartbreaker: Chill is prone to a rail, and had two at his last Badminton appearance. This is a top-quality field that’ll be tightly packed on the final day, and a rail will be very expensive.

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Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

15: Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Billy Mexico x Shannon Line, by Golden Bash). Owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw.

Dear Feale came so close to winning a big one last year, when he led the dressage at Bicton’s pop-up CCI5* in August, ultimately finishing in second to Gemma Tattersall and Chilli Knight. The rangy, elegant product of the Funnells’ Billy Stud has been a real labour of love for Pippa, who spotted his promise early on and has carefully cultivated a quite remarkable record for the gelding. In 32 FEI starts, he’s finished in the top ten 20 times, and for the first two seasons of his international career, he never finished outside it. That included a second place finish in the 2016 Seven-Year-Old World Championship — an exceptional boost for British breeding — and wins in his first CCI2*-S and his first CCI3*-L.

Since his step up to the top levels in 2017, he’s delivered some exceptional moments for Pippa, who comes to Badminton off the back of riding two horses at Kentucky. He’s had top five finishes in the very tough four-star shorts at Chatsworth and Hartpury, plus a sixth place finish in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L in 2019 and a 13th place finish in that huge, tough CCI4*-L at Bicton last June. This will be his second visit to Badminton: he made his five-star debut here in 2019, but retired on course after picking up 20 penalties and activating the safety device at the footbridge. His first-phase score of 26.5, though, was very exciting, as was his 23.9 at his second five-star last year.

Expect these two to be well in the hunt after dressage, and to make it happen across the country. Feale is much more established now than he was the last time we saw him here, and like many large, leggy horses, he’s benefitted from the time the pandemic offered for growth and strengthening. We probably won’t see him catch the time, but the smattering of penalties he’ll pick up shouldn’t do him any harm after what will likely be a very influential day of cross-country. On Sunday, he’s got a 50/50 chance of jumping a clear. If he does, we should be looking at a top five candidate.

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William Levett and Lassban Diamond Lift. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

18: Bill Levett and Lassban Diamond Lift (AUS)

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Easy Lift x Lassban Chow Bella, by Diamond Chin). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch and the rider.

This Irish gelding is one of those horses that we can’t help but feel we’ve had robbed from us by the pandemic. Before it hit, he was just stepping up to the top: in 2018, his ten-year-old year, he earned top five finishes at Tattersalls CCI4*-S and Bramham CCI4*-L, commonly regarded as the toughest CCI4*-L on the circuit. Then he went to the WEG in Tryon that autumn, and though a rider fall meant he didn’t complete, he returned in early 2019 as an eleven-year-old full of promise, finishing 15th in his non-championship five-star debut at Badminton. And then, well, The Happening happened, and we’ve only seen him in one international since: that was the CCI4*-L at Lignières, where he performed beautifully in the first two phases but withdrew from the top ten before the final phase.

UK-based Bill also works as part of the Monart Sales team, helping to select top-quality young horses for the luxury off-season auction – and 17hh Lassban Diamond Lift, or ‘Sparkles’, is as good an advertisement as any for the team’s efforts, having been bought through the sale himself as a youngster.

Sparkles’s early season runs will be ultra-important, because he’s short of match practice over the last couple of years, but so far, so good: he’s run in an ON and an OI at the time of publication, performing well in both (with a 24 dressage in the Novice!) and looking on excellent form. We know this is a horse who suits Badminton’s track; Bill himself said he made it feel ‘easy’ in 2019, and so if we disregard the long gap the gelding has had, we’ll be looking to him to aim to just break that 30 barrier in the first phase – a mark that’s totally possible, though he hasn’t yet done it at this level – and deliver a reasonably efficient clear round across the country. On Sunday, we’d expect to see at least one rail fall – though in those two early national runs he’s had this year, he’s jumped clear rounds.

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Piggy March and Vanir Kamira. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

19: Piggy March and Vanir Kamira (GBR)

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Camiro de Haar Z x Fair Caledonian, by Dixi). Owned by Trevor Dickens. 

It does rather feel as though we’ve been referring to Piggy and ‘Tillybean’ as the reigning Badminton champions for a solid decade, doesn’t it? The length of the pandemic comes into sharp focus when you consider that Tilly won as a fourteen-year-old in 2019 and now returns for the first time since as a seasoned seventeen-year-old. It’s been tough to watch horses like this — proper, gutsy five-star horses that aren’t CCI4*-S winners or championship-style rides — sit out the lost seasons, but a super run at Bicton CCI5* that saw them lead after cross-country will ensure their fire is still lit.

And what a joy for Piggy to begin her day on Saturday aboard one of the world’s greatest cross-country horses, before coming back later on on the young upstart Brookfield Inocent, who will be able to benefit from his predecessor’s fact-finding mission. That’s not her only role for the week, of course — the gritty little machine of a mare has every chance of defending her title, too, with her mid-to-high 20s dressage score and her excellent and very quick cross-country performance. The tricky bit for Tilly is showjumping: they had three rails at Bicton’s CCI4*-L last year and two at the five-star there, and tend to be nearly guaranteed one down, which is what made their Badminton clear and subsequent win even more of a fairytale finish.

Badminton is quite a flat course, but Eric has been particularly clever to find and use terrain this year, which will make it tougher for many but plays well to Tilly’s strengths. For those of us who love slightly ordinary, quirky mares who have enormous hearts and deep wells of try, there’ll be plenty of reason to cheer for her on her way around.

“She’s a pain in the ass 362 days a year, and she’s really tricky to manage,” said Piggy when she won in 2019. “She’s not the nicest of things to ride, you know, and she’s difficult, but she’s amazing – I say it all so fondly, because we all love her to bits. She’s a true five-star horse that comes to form at Badminton and Burghley. The rest of the time, she feels pretty ordinary, and you have to work pretty hard for what you can get. She doesn’t find any of it easy, and if I’d built that [showjumping]  course at home and practiced it on the same side of the arena, I could do it fifty times and never have a clear round. There’s something about her, and those great little mares that just do enough when they need to. If they’re on your side, they’re just incredible.”

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Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Abby Powell.

20: Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby (USA)

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Guy Cavalier x Lady Tanjour, by Rafael). Owned by the rider.This’ll be a long-awaited return trip to the UK for Lillian and Barnaby, who last made the journey over for that big, tough, influential Burghley in 2019, where they finished 18th after a gutsy clear round with 28.8 time penalties. That might sound rather a lot, but that’s what these true five-star cross-country days do: they make the finer margins of time a little less relevant and focus on tenacity and fortitude. This year’s Badminton course walks as though it could do much the same thing.

There’s already been some extra tension in the build-up to this trip – the pair weren’t initially on the accepted list, but their spot near the top of the waitlist saw them make the cut just a number of days after the list went live, allowing them to begin making their plans in earnest.

Either way, it’ll be an incredible tenth CCI5* start for this stalwart pair, whose best result at the level so far is thirteenth place at Kentucky in 2017. They’ve got four top-twenty finishes at the level under their belt so far, with their most recent coming at last year’s inaugural Maryland CCI5*. They finished 18th there after adding just 2.4 time penalties across the country and taking two rails on the final day. The 32.9 they scored in the first phase was the culmination of plenty of hard work to bring their performances between the boards to a consistent and competitive place, and they’re on track to deliver a sub-35 here.

Great things often come from humble backgrounds, and Lillian first teamed up with the impressive gelding when he was a very green six- year-old and she was basing herself in Ireland to gain more experience. Lillian’s own horse had been sidelined, so she needed to find a replacement – and so, with trainer Boyd Martin’s advice to just choose one that jumps well in her mind, she picked the rank, rogue gelding that no one enjoyed riding, because he never, ever said no to a fence. They began their career together in Britain, and since then, they’ve become familiar faces at the top events all over the world.

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Phillip Dutton and Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

22: Phillip Dutton and Z (USA)

Fourteen-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Asca x Bellabouche, by Babouche VH Gehucht Z). Owned by Thomas Tierney, Ann Jones, Caroline Moran, Simon Roosevelt, and Suzanne Lacy.

Pioneering Ameristralian P.Dutty was actually named to the Aussie Sports Hall of Fame back in 2002. He relocated to the US in 2001 to put himself in a hub of the sport, and changed nationality to the USA officially in 2007. He’s long been the country’s most stalwart campaigner on teams, and last year’s Tokyo appearance with Z was his seventh Games. He won individual bronze at Rio on Mighty Nice, and Z finished 13th at the WEG in 2018.

Though Z had a tricky 2019 with a few blips (and some seriously good results, too), he’s been on top form since, with seven top-ten FEI runs out of eight runs. They finished eighth at Kentucky last spring, and are fast, reliable, and super over the poles. Their Tokyo form in the final phase was something of an outlier – they had two rails, which dropped them to 21st place, but had had nine consecutive clear rounds in internationals prior to that.

Their 25.3 in a CCI4*-S earlier last year proved they can even scare the dressage leaders – but we’re more likely to see them post a high 20s score and climb after that. They come to Badminton off a solid prep run in the CCI4*-S at Tryon, where they finished second after adding just 2.8 time penalties to their 28 dressage. On current form, we could certainly see a strong bid for a placing from this pair.

Originally imported from Portugal, where he was ridden by Duarte Seabra, Z is naturally a bit of a quiet, shy character – but over the years he’s opened up much more, and while Phillip says he’ll never be a pushy, assertive horse, he enjoys surveying his kingdom from his piece of prime real estate in the heart of the barn. Under saddle, that can translate to a bit of tension, as he’s a real trier that doesn’t want to get it wrong, but it’s been a joy to watch him learn to own each phase under Phillip’s careful training.

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25: Bundy Philpott and Tresca NZPH (NZL)

Sixteen-year-old New Zealand Warmblood gelding (Fuego du Prelet x Paradise NZPH, by Barbarian). Owned by Bryan Philpott and the rider.

Bundy returns for her first Badminton since 2007, this time riding the stalwart Tresca, who she’s produced through the levels from a four-year-old. This is the first major chapter in a big adventure for Bundy: she’s sold her business and house in New Zealand and has moved over to the UK for the next three years, basing with Brazil’s Ruy Fonseca and developing her system against the big guns of the sport with her string of six horses.

Though Bundy has been to Badminton twice before, she’s still in search of that coveted completion: the first time, she had a fall on cross-country, and the second, her horse overreached and wasn’t able to trot up on Sunday morning. This will be a third five-star start for Tresca, who similarly hasn’t pinned down the completion at the level yet: at his debut at Adelaide in 2018 he fell across the country, and on his return in 2019 he was spun at the final horse inspection. But such is the consistency of the rest of their record as a pair that they were sent to Tokyo last year as travelling reserves for the New Zealand team.

Tresca, who broke his pelvis as a young horse, might not be the picture-perfect ideal of an eventer, but he’s certainly got plenty of heart. We won’t see this pair challenge the leaders with their mid-to-high 30s dressage score, but their primary goal will be the weekend: it’s time to nail down that five-star finish and all the extraordinary joy that comes with it.

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Tamie Smith & Mai Baum. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

26: Tamie Smith and Mai Baum (USA)

Sixteen-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Loredano 2 x Ramira, by Rike). Owned by Alexandra and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell. 

Though we’ll also see Tamie and Lexus appear on the Kentucky entry list, Badminton is very much plan A for this dynamic pair, who went to Tokyo last year as travelling reserves for the US team. In fact, it wouldn’t be a particularly bold move to say that they represent the strongest chance of a US Badminton win that we’ve seen in some time: they regularly score in the very low 20s, and can slip into the teens, which will give Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class something to worry about, and they’ve become a seriously confident and consistent partnership across the country.

Their showjumping form, too, tends to be absolutely impeccable, though their record is marred somewhat by an uncharacteristic two fences down at Aachen last season, which they’ve only done on one other occasion across their international career. In fact, across 25 internationals, they’ve pulled a grand total of 10 rails, giving them 16 clear rounds. Only three of their rails have come at a three-day, so they’re particularly good at a big occasion.

They came very close to winning Kentucky on the gelding’s debut last year, though an 11 penalties for an activated frangible device saw them drop just outside the top ten instead – so they come to their first Badminton with a curious and powerful combination of motivators: they know they’re capable of winning it, but they also know what it feels like to come so close and miss out, so they’re hungry for it. That can be just the fire a pair like this needs to make it happen on the day, and with 16 top-five finishes out of 25 FEI runs, they’re going to pose a serious threat to anyone who’s trying to keep the Badminton title for the home side.

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Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

28: Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue (IRE)

Thirteen-year-old British-Bred Sport Horse gelding (Jaguar Mail x Rock Me Baby, by Rock Kind). Owned by The Salty Syndicate and the rider.

Originally sent to Tokyo as travelling reserves for the Irish team, Austin and ‘Salty’ stepped up in exceptional style following the withdrawal of Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua and ultimately delivered the best Irish performance of the week, finishing in a very respectable 13th place. That was despite a 38 dressage that was much higher than they’d usually produce – they’re a low-to-mid-30s pair that can occasionally sneak into the 20s, generally speaking. But their exceptional cross-country performance, in which they added nothing to that first-phase score, saw them climb – and even a rail down on the final day didn’t hamper them much, as the showjumping proved tricky across the board.

This is Salty’s second five-star start, and though he didn’t complete his debut at Pau in 2020 because he was spun at the final horse inspection, he did finish the cross-country clear inside the time. That’s classic Salty: he’s reliable and he’s fast, and those two qualities tend to make up a lot of the ground he loses in the first phase. He’ll have a tough job on his hands to eclipse some of the horses in this field, who can lay down a sub-30 and stay on it, but you can expect him to work his way up the board anyway – and his early-season runs have looked excellent so far, with his highest score of 2022 coming in at 32.1. A rail down on Sunday could prove more costly than it was in Tokyo, where nearly everyone had a rail so the influence of the phase was diminished – but we’d be wholly unsurprised to see Salty make another appearance in the top fifteen here.

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Rose Nesbitt and EG Michaelangelo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

29: Rose Nesbitt and EG Michealangelo (GBR) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Chellthago Z x Jaspers Flower, by Ojasper). Owned by the rider.

24-year-old Rose is yet another young British talent to make her start in the Pony Club, and her competitive career really began aged twelve, with a double win in the Pony Club team championships back in 2010 where she represented the Ludlow PC. After that, she went on to ride on the British team at the Pony European Championships in 2013, taking team gold and individual sixth place.

Rose and Badminton ride ‘Jack’ joined forces when he was a five-year-old and she was on her gap year before heading to university, and they’ve enjoyed an exciting career trajectory together, ticking all the milestones off in tandem: he was Rose’s first three-star and four-star mount, and in their 16 FEI starts together, they’ve never had a cross-country jumping penalty. Though their mid-30s marks tend to keep them out of the placings in Britain’s jam-packed four-star classes, they did finish seventh place in the more compact line-up of the Bicton Under-25 CCI4*-L last June, which ran over the same extraordinarily tough track as the main CCI4*-L. That’s the most telling result on their record: their clear round there, with just 7.2 time penalties over the tough terrain, indicates that they’ve got the footwork and the fitness to be able to come forward feeling confident at their first five-star — the biggest milestone they’ve shared so far.

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Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

30: Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan (USA)

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Master Imp x Ardragh Bash, by Cavalier Royale). Owned by Anne W. Eldridge.

This will be a fourth five-star for Ariel Grald, who has made a particular point of trying to push her own and ‘Simon’s’ comfort zones, campaigning him at a variety of different five-stars around the world with the unerring support of owner Annie Eldridge. That’s previously included Kentucky (12th on their debut in 2019), Burghley (10th, also in 2019, an enormously tough year in which they won the best first-timer prize), and Luhmühlen (third in 2021). This time, they tackle their first Burghley, and they do so with a very real shot at a spot on the team for the World Championships this year if all goes well. At this point in their career, it’s hard to imagine how it couldn’t.

The ‘exuberant’ gelding, who can often be found doing his own commentary in schooling sessions, is a big chap, and in typical Irish fashion, it’s taken a while for him to build up the physical strength to be able to really fight for competitive marks. But although their first two outings at five-star saw them score in the upper 30s, they managed to drop that right down to a 33.8 last year at Luhmühlen, and that was a tough scoring class, too. We saw them follow it up with a 28.6 at Great Meadows CCI4*-S, but they went back up to 34.8 at Aachen and delivered a 32.2 in their prep run at Fair Hill CCI4*-S last month. If they can keep their score sub-35 here, they’ll be able to climb into a competitive position over the weekend – and the varied, exciting course will be perfect for Simon, because Ariel’s clever commitment to going to different five-stars and challenging him over different styles of track means that he’s got all the tools in the box to read all these questions. This will be one of the rounds to watch on Saturday, though they’ll have to work hard not to have their customary pole on Sunday. The showjumping has certainly improved over the last year, and they jumped clear over Luhmühlen’s notoriously tough final phase, but they had a rail in each of their previous five-stars.

There’s a very real chance for this pair to finish in the top fifteen or better, and after that, Simon will get to enjoy a little holiday recreationally bullying his best friend, rescued mini Lil’ Biscuit.

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Esib Power and Soladoun. Photo by Peter Nixon.

31: Elizabeth Power and Soladoun (IRE)

Fifteen-year-old French Thoroughbred (Madoun XX x Solador XX, by Solicitor XX). Owned by Richard Ames and the rider.

What a joy it is to see this pair back at the top level, and what a relief it must be for the initially waitlisted Esib to be able to bring her tough, cool Thoroughbred out to tackle this course. We’ve not seen much of Soladoun since his five-star debut at Burghley in 2018, when he and Esib zoomed around inside the time and ultimately finished ninth, climbing 30 places through the course of Saturday. He then sat out 2019 and much of 2020 with an injury, but for a win in the CCI4*-S at Mallow in Ireland, and didn’t do another FEI event until Burnham Market CCI4*-S last month. Esib opted to run him reasonably slowly there, and frustratingly, he knocked a MIM clip for 11 penalties, but for a horse of his experience, it will hopefully just serve as a useful wake-up call.

Lack of runs aside, we’d be looking at this pair to really attack Eric’s tough track and deliver us one of the fastest rounds of the day. The keyword with this year’s course is ‘variety’, and Esib is a rider perfectly positioned to be able to make the best of a course like that: she isn’t just an eventing phenom in her own right, she’s also an excellent show jumper, regularly competing at major competitions such as the Hickstead Derby. Some influence from her brother, Grand National-winning jockey Robbie Power, no doubt contributes to her ability to manage high velocity with care and tact, and she’ll relish the challenges presented out there on Saturday. While she and Soladoun will likely start with a mid-30s score, they’ll climb, climb, and climb some more on Saturday. Sunday could let them down: we’ve seen them have as many as five rails down in a single round before, though these days it’s a bit more one or none. If they can keep them all up, we could see them in a very good position at the end of the competition. It might be Esib’s first Badminton run since 2015, but don’t expect her to come as a tourist.

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32: Amanda Pottinger and Just Kidding (NZL)

Sixteen-year-old Australian Thoroughbred gelding (Fusaichi Pegasus x Gypsy Princess, by Sadler’s Wells). Owned by the Pottinger family. 

30-year-old Amanda makes her Badminton debut this week, though not her five-star debut: she and Just Kidding completed Adelaide in 2019, finishing fourth, and 2018, finishing second. They’ve also been the New Zealand National Champions twice, in 2016 and 2018. For all her success, though, Amanda doesn’t ride full-time — instead, she fits her competitive pursuits around a job as a Business Analyst in the dairy industry back home in New Zealand. She’s been able to take a leave of absence to base herself in Wiltshire in the lead-up to Badminton, where her fellow residents include dressage riders Sarah Wilkinson and Jessie Kirby.

‘Muzi’ picked up her gelding, who’s sired by the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, off the track as a five-year-old — for considerably less than the $100,000 he was sold for as a yearling. Muzi, for her part, is the daughter of Kiwi Olympian Tinks Pottinger, who finished fourth here back in 1988 before going to the Seoul Olympics. Both certainly have the genes to succeed, and there’s an awful lot to be said for their competition record, too. Last year, they scored a 28.1 and ultimately finished 13th in the huge CCI4*-S field at Bicton, which was the final Olympic selection trial for the British squad, and they’ve gone as low as 21.2 in a CCI4*-L at Puhinui in 2020. While both their previous five-star runs saw them score in the mid-30s, they’ve really stepped their game up in this phase and could lay down a very exciting result to get their name on the board early on. On Saturday, they should have a good time: they’re a reliable pair, and when Muzi takes the handbrake off, they’re seriously efficient, too. Sunday will likely be expensive, though, and we’ll probably see a couple of rails fall.

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33: Cathal Daniels and Barrichello (IRE) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Thirteen-year-old British-Bred Sport Horse gelding (Balou du Rouet x Madon’s Even Wiser, by Matinee du Madon VII). Owned by Dr Sarah Hughes.

This talented gelding’s five-star debut has long been on the horizon – it was intended for Pau in 2020, though was subsequently delayed, despite a serious autumn campaign to gain the necessary qualifications. As he had only joined Cathal’s string in the middle of the year, they ran several times in quick succession, picking up exciting results along the way: in August of that year they finished second and third in CCI4*-S classes at Kilguilkey and Ballindenisk, respectively, and then ran the CCI4*-L at Ballindenisk the following month, finishing seventh. A week later, they ran in the CCI4*-S at Little Downham, taking twelfth place. When the planned run at Pau was nixed from their agenda, they rerouted to Barocca d’Alva in Portugal, where they won the CCI4*-L in mid-November. That short but productive season earned the gelding the honour of being Eventing Ireland’s top horse of 2020, a title he shared with Sam Watson’s Imperial Sky. Though all of American owner Sarah’s horses sat the 2021 season out, they’ve returned with a bang this year, and Barrichello will head to Badminton off the back of a smart third place finish in the CCI4*-L at the Netherlands’ Kronenberg Horse Trials.

This is another horse who, on his day, is a serious force to be reckoned with, and could put up a strong showing for the top debutant spot. He can easily go sub-30, and has done so in four of his six four-star tests with Cathal aboard, and he’s naturally efficient, bold, and enormously genuine across the country. He’s prone to a rail or two on Sunday, though, and we have seen some fluctuation in those first-phase marks – his last two FEI tests have yielded uncharacteristically conservative scores of 36.1 and 34.7. He’s a horse who has a history of an educational first run and a successful second one: he was eliminated in his first-ever FEI run with first rider Caroline March, who fell on course, but they rebounded to win on their next outing at the level. Likewise, his first Blenheim appearance – in the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S with William Fox-Pitt aboard — was a steady and uncompetitive one, but when he returned the following year for the CCI4*-L with Alex Bragg, he finished ninth. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this Badminton run as a great primer for a seriously competitive return next year, though a fighting performance this time around isn’t out of the question.

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34: Sarah Ennis and Woodcourt Garrison (IRE) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Garrison Royal x Davitt Star, by Furisto). Owned by Breda Kennedy.

Though he’s still relatively young, Woodcourt Garrison makes his five-star debut having already represented Ireland twice at senior championships: he came forward at the European Championships at Luhmühlen in 2019, finishing 26th, and competed at Tokyo, too, where he finished 36th after a spot of bother on course. Former lab technician Sarah has long been a valuable part of the Irish front herself and finished fifth at the 2018 WEG with Horseware Stellor Rebound, helping the team to a long-awaited podium finish.

‘Tyson’ is just a little guy at around 15.3hh, but when has that ever stopped an event horse from thriving, really? Though this will be more of an educational and formative run for the gelding, there’s every chance he could deliver the goods on the day and put in a serious climb. When he’s good, he’s very good: he finished seventh in Millstreet’s CCI4*-S last year, with a nice 28.9 dressage and 14 total time penalties, but we’ve also seen him put a 37.9 on the board in his prep run at Burnham Market CCI4*-S. In his last five international cross-country runs, he’s gone clear twice, steadily, been eliminated once for a rider fall, had a 15 for a flag, and has had a 20. A purple patch from 2018 through 2020 proved that he absolutely can be reliable and competitive, but over the last year or so, we’ve tended to see him flit back and forth across the spectrum a bit more in his performances. One thing that has stayed consistent, though, is his showjumping — he’s generally very good in this phase and should give his rider a little break after she’ll have worked hard to hit the right end of the spectrum over the two previous days.

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Arianna Schivo and Quefira de L’Ormeau. Photo by FEI/Massimo Argenziano.

35: Arianna Schivo and Quefira de l’Ormeau (ITA)

Eighteen-year-old Selle Français mare (Iolisco du Quinhon*HN x Isabelle du Brulot, by Beausejour IV). Owned by 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, and in 2019, when they finished 17th. At 2018’s WEG, they jumped clear to finish 31st, and at Tokyo, they were 26th after a swift clear, a pole, and a 42.9 dressage.

Quefira, who’s known at home as ‘La Madame’ was bought as a young horse from Nicolas Touzaint, and shares a sire with Maxime Livio’s Pau winner Qalao des Mers. They’ve been to Badminton twice before: in 2017, their week ended early when Arianna took a tumble at the inauspicious second fence. They rerouted to Saumur, finishing 12th, and haven’t ever had a cross-country jumping penalty in an FEI competition since – and that’s included the 2018 WEG, Tokyo Olympics, 2019 Europeans, and a subsequent Badminton. They were 23rd here in 2019 with a steady clear.

Though that 42.9 in Tokyo bumps up their averages a bit, they’re actually a really consistent mid-30s pair, and the 36.1 they scored here in 2019 is pretty bang-on what we’d expect to see again. We’ll also be looking at Italy’s sole representatives to come home closer to the optimum time on this run; they’ve amassed a tonne of experience since their Badminton debut, and this will likely be the eighteen-year-old mare’s last season at the top, so we’ll expect Arianna to aim for a confident, quick clear. They’re a naturally speedy pair, so if they find their rhythm over Eric Winter’s tough track quickly, we should see them give the minute markers a run for their money – at Bramham CCI4*-L in 2018 they romped home with a mere 3.2 time, and that’s a seriously big course with some of the toughest terrain in the game. They’re prone to the odd rail but tend to jump well on the final day of a three-day, so will be aiming to finish in the top twenty if all goes their way.

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James Sommerville and Talent. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

36: James Sommerville and Talent (GBR)WITHDRAWN

Sixteen-year-old Dutch-bred AES gelding (Eurocommerce Toulouse x Rozelina, by Concorde). Owned by Jennifer Sommerville and the rider.

Yorkshireman James is yet another Pony Clubber amidst our ranks — he rode with the York and Ainsty PC before heading out into the big wide world to be a working pupil for several major names, including fellow competitors Nicola Wilson and Oliver Townend. This will be his fifth five-star with Talent, with whom he’s previously competed here three times and at Burghley once. Their best result was 33rd here in 2019.

This stalwart pairing wrapped up their 2021 in fine style, taking second place in the CCI4*-L at Strzegom in Poland. This year, we’ve seen them deliver a couple of steady, sensible prep runs: they finished 63rd in the CCI4*-S at Thoresby after adding 20.8 total time penalties and a rail to their 34.3 dressage, and were 42nd at Burnham Market CCI4*-S after picking up 24.8 time penalties and three rails. That’s roughly what we’ll expect to see this week, too — a mid-30s score is par for the course for them, and they tend to run steadily even around the big ones. A rail on the final day is also pretty likely. For new dad James, though, it’ll be hugely special to get his best pal back out at this level for the first time since 2019 and add another completion to his tally.

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Ben Hobday and Shadow Man II. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

37: Ben Hobday and Shadow Man II (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Twelve-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Fidjy of Colors x Favorite van de Keezerswinning, by Winningmood van de Arenberg). Owned by Jane Chambers, Stephen Hobday, and the rider.

It’s a long-awaited five-star debut for talented Shadow Man, or ‘Fidgy’, who bucks Ben’s trend of riding part-Clydesdales around the top levels. We were meant to see the tackle Luhmühlen last year, but travel restrictions impeded their plans and they had to sit the event out. This pair has previously won the British National Championship at Gatcombe in 2019, and come to Badminton with a serious chance of a very jolly week indeed.

Since June of last year, Ben’s been keeping busy riding the chestnut gelding in a number of international showjumping competitions, both domestic and abroad. They’ve certainly held their own, with a number of placings in CSI2* and CSI3* classes, and that could really give them the edge come Sunday. We expect to see them in a good position after dressage, where they should score around 30 or just below, and other than a retirement on course at Hartpury CCI4*-S last season, they’re reliable and reasonably quick across the country. There’s a chance of a top ten finish here, and for Ben’s army of fans – including those who have bought into this exciting horse via the Event Horse Owners Syndicate – it’ll be thrilling to watch them throw down their gauntlet this week. Ben, who won his fight against cancer in 2015 and returned to Badminton the following spring with Mulry’s Error, certainly has a special and emotive connection to the event, and will no doubt receive the loudest cheers of the day out on cross-country. #yehboi.

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Helen Wilson and My Ernie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

38: Helen Wilson and My Ernie (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Cardento x Whoopiminka, by Cantos). Owned by the rider.

It’ll be just the 11th FEI start for diminutive Ernie, but don’t underestimate what he and Helen could do this week. We’re delighted to see Helen back at this level sixteen years after her last five-star runs, and she returns with an exceptional partnership with this horse. She picked him up very cheaply because he was a bit of a tricky youngster and nearly impossible to travel, and as a result, she made his formative years as straightforward for him as possible, choosing to prioritise hunting with the Surrey Union instead of chasing eventing results. He proved a catty, clever, and supremely scopy jumper, and in mid-2019, Helen decided to give him a go out eventing. He finished that season with a flurry of rosettes at BE100 and Novice (US Prelim), and in 2020, he stepped up to Intermediate and contested his first FEI events, picking up third place in the CCI3*-S at Cornbury. Last year, he stepped up to four-star, and though he did have one educational 20 in his second run at Houghton Hall, he’s improved enormously with every outing.

His sixth place finish in the CCI4*-L at Blenheim felt like something of an inevitability, despite not having previously placed at the level, because he’s such an exceptional galloping and jumping machine. They finished on their dressage score of 31.7 there, climbing from an initial 26th place, and although the gelding is green, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he did something very similar here. Certainly the track will work in his favour: it’s been designed to reward competitors who train outside the arena, and a horse with extensive hunting mileage will find nothing to shy at in its variable terrain and multitude of questions. The pair have had two reasonably steady runs to start their year off in CCI4*-S classes at Thoresby and Burnham Market, and now they’re ready to become the literal dark horse contenders of this year’s Badminton.

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Tom Rowland and Possible Mission. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

39: Tom Rowland and Possible Mission (GBR)

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Temple Clover x Bahrain Supreme, by Ricardo Z). Owned by Robin 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 does find showjumping a bit spooky. The pair tackled their first five-star in 2018 at Burghley, finishing a very creditable 27th after a slow clear. That was enough to qualify them for Badminton, where they finished 36th, again delivering a steady clear. The horse was just a twelve-year-old then, and it’s one of the nasty knock-on effects of the pandemic that we now see those young, early-career five-star horses coming back as very low-mileage teenagers, having lost a couple of valuable seasons in the prime of their competitive careers.

Hunter sat out 2020, but returned in 2021 to finish seventh in a hot field at Houghton Hall CCIO4*-S, adding nothing to their dressage score of 32.3 and proving that they do have speed on their side if they need it. Steady runs at Intermediate and Advanced this spring were, no doubt, intentional ahead of this big run, but it’s very exciting to come into it thinking about what they proved at Houghton. If they can replicate some of that speed here, they could well fight for a spot in the top twenty.

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Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

40: Christoph Wahler and Carjatan S (GER)

Thirteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Clearway x Kajenna, by Galant Vert). Owned by the rider.

Though Germany only has one entrant in this year’s field, it’s a seriously strong one – and those in the know will be watching Christoph and his stalwart grey closely this week. This will technically be a third five-star for them: they made their debut at Pau in 2020, putting an excellent 25.6 on the board before Christoph decided to withdraw the horse, who he felt wasn’t quite right, before cross-country. Though no doubt an achingly tough call to make, it paid off when, after months of getting the horse fitter than he’d ever had him, he returned to the level to take a close second place at Luhmühlen last year.

Christoph has been quietly making a name for himself as one of Team Germany’s next string of superstars, winning the Nations Cup team and individual competition at Houghton International with this horse in 2019, and following this up with a super top-twenty performance at the European Championships. Their 2020 was very exciting, too: they’ve notched up three top-ten finishes at Luhmühlen, Strzegom, and Arville, and although their trip to the German National Championships was thwarted by an uncharacteristic drive-by at a tough and influential line, there was plenty to be excited about. Their 22.4 was a personal best at the level and their showjumping round was typically classy, as was the rest of their cross-country round. Their most recent significant success was a seventh place finish at last autumn’s European Championships, where they once again competed as individuals — though it’s not hard to imagine that their championship team call-up is just around the corner.

Christoph has worked hard to overcome some minor blips in the horse’s early education at the four-star level, which saw them take a swim in CCI4*-S sections at Chatsworth and Luhmühlen in 2019. Since then, the talented horse has visibly grown in confidence, and Christoph — whose family stud specialises in producing dressage horses — has continued to hone the other two phases, too. Their performances last year proved that Christoph is one of Europe’s best cross-country riders, and Carjatan is no slouch, either.

This pair could very easily make a bid for the top end of the leaderboard in the first phase, though one of the downsides of Carjatan’s newfound fitness levels is the potential of a bit of fizziness on the flat. We saw that happen at Luhmühlen, where they earned an uncharacteristic 32.1 after a tense test that bordered on explosive, but by the Europeans they were back on super form to earn a 26. They should replicate this at Badminton, and if they do, they’ll pose a serious threat, especially on Sunday – their showjumping round at Luhmühlen was arguably one of the most polished, easy-looking five-star jumping rounds we’ve ever seen.

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Sofia Sjoborg and DHI Mighty Dwight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

42: Sofia Sjoborg and DHI Mighty Dwight (SWE)

Seventeen-year-old KWPN gelding (Labor’s VDL Indorado x Nemareska V, by Havidoff). Owned by Juliet Sjoborg and the rider.

British-based Swede Sofia made her CCI5* debut at Pau last year riding her long-time partner Dwight, who she joined forces with in 2014 at the start of her FEI career. The 24-year-old went into that, the biggest step up of her career, just weeks after a successful trip to the European Championships in Avenches, where she competed as an individual with Bryjamolga van het Marienshof Z, finishing 13th overall. That was her Senior Championship debut, but she’s amassed plenty of team experience over the years: she’s been on three Young Rider and two Junior European teams, earning a team bronze at the Fontainebleau Young Rider Europeans in 2018 and individual bronze at the Montilibretti Junior Europeans in 2016, riding Dwight on both occasions.

Both horse and rider have come up through the levels together, though Dwight did tackle two CCI2*-Ls with Heidi Woodhead of DHI Sport Horses at the very start of his career. In the 38 FEI competitions he and Sofia have started at together, they’ve proven consistent and capable, amassing 13 top-ten finishes. They know each other front and back, which is exactly the sort of partnership you want while heading to Badminton, and though they won’t be quick enough to nail down the win this week, they should put up a very respectable performance. We’ll be looking for a first-phase score in the low-to-mid 30s — though they’ve proven they can nail a high-20s score, and help from dressage superstar Laura Bechtolsheimer, with whom Sofia is based, and Tim and Jonelle Price will give them extra ammo on that front. They’d never picked up a cross-country jumping penalty in an international until Sofia took an unlucky tumble in the CCI4*-S at Thoresby, but that was a real outlier and we can expect a confident, attacking round with educational time penalties. Showjumping could prove tricky: they had six rails down at Pau, and four at Thoresby last month, but generally, they just have one.

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Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

43: Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Contendros Bube x Espanja, by Escudo II). Owned by the rider.

Last year’s Luhmühlen winners delivered a classic eventing fairytale finish in Germany: they travelled out to Germany despite incredibly complicated travel restrictions that forced a 10-day sojourn in the Netherlands at the base of Olympic rider Tim Lips first. They then went on to Luhmühlen with no support staff, no Team GB representatives, and no groom – okay, sort of a groom in the form of this busy EN reporter and photographer, who also coordinated the trip for them. After living for a week in tandem in a 3.9 tonne horse box with a single bed and no electricity, they pulled it out of the bag and won, leading from pillar to post in the blistering 35-degree heat.

Now, they come forward for their third five-star — they were tenth on their debut at Pau in 2020 — and first Badminton, no doubt with lucky unicorn mascot Sprinkles in situ in the front of the horse box. This year, Charly is looking stronger than ever after a long break post-Luhmühlen, when routine scans at home revealed a small soft tissue injury that, thankfully, never caused any actual lameness. Still, Mollie opted for the long, slow, and sensible rehab approach, pulling herself out of contention for September’s European Championships and putting the time into getting her best pal at his peak again. As a result, we’ve seen him return to competition in 2022 looking seriously fresh and delighted to be back out and about. They’ve had planned steady runs in the Advanced at Thoresby Park and the CCI4*-S at Burnham Market, delivering typically excellent mid-20s scores.

Mollie bought Charly when she was a teenager: she’d looked at over 200 young horses on various European dealers’ yards before she spotted the striking gelding almost entirely by chance in a crowded stable. When you know, you know, and she certainly did – and in the last few seasons, this exciting pair have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with against the stiffest of competition. They’ve notched up 18 top-ten finishes in 29 competitions, and have never added a time or cross-country jumping penalty at five-star.

The first phase is this pair’s piece de resistance – Mollie is one of those rare eventers who’d be just as happy doing pure dressage, and she trains with top riders Olivia Oakeley and Carl Hester to refine her performances as much as possible. Carl has often said that the horse could make the discipline swap with ease, too. They put a 25.5 on the board at Pau to lead through much of the first day of competition, and they’ve dipped down to 23.8 at Barbury in 2019, where they finished second to Andrew Nicholson. Expect them to be near — or at — the top of the leaderboard after this phase. They came home inside the time at Pau and Luhmühlen with some gritty, determined riding, and with that experience under their belts they’ll aim to do the same again – Charly’s bold, quick and clever, and this duo trust one another wholeheartedly. Their only weaker phase tends to be showjumping, where they’re prone to a rail or two — but help from showjumping coach Jay Halim has refined their performances.

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Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

44: Kitty King and Vendredi Biats (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Winningmood x Liane Normande, by Camelia de Ruelles). Owned by Diana Bown, Sally Lloyd Baker, Sally Eyre and Samantha Wilson.

We haven’t actually seen Kitty and ‘Froggy’ at a five-star since the gelding’s debut at Badminton in 2019: they were due to go to Pau in 2020, but a wobble on their prep run at Little Downham CCI4*-S curtailed that plan, and their 2021 season was focused on the European Championships, at which they finished ninth and helped the British team to gold. They also went to the Europeans in 2019, finishing seventh while competing as individuals.

On their day, they’re extraordinarily competitive, and can count a Bramham CCI4*-L win in 2019 among their achievements. In 39 FEI starts, they’ve clocked up 24 top-ten finishes, and their mid-20s (or below!) dressage tests see them at the business end of the leaderboard in any company. Froggy is naturally very swift, and he’s a great show jumper, too – but he hasn’t always been totally reliable across the country. He’s a typical cheeky Frenchman and can lose a bit of focus on course, and though it certainly looks like those days are behind him, we’ve seen him break hearts on more than one occasion previously.

If he behaves himself and commits to the job this week, as he should do, he’ll be fighting for a placing here — as well as his first five-star completion. He’s a very, very good horse, and Kitty is an exceptional jockey, but there’s an element of chance riding along with this pair.

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Hector Payne and Dynasty. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

47: Hector Payne and Dynasty (GBR)

Fourteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Whitesnake x Cleopatra, by Calvados). Owned by Jeremy and Judith Skinner and David and Margie Hall. 

In another life, Hector might have been a PE teacher — and we’re told by a reliable source (that is, um, Hector himself) that shimmying up a rope is his number one talent. We’re not sure Eric Winter’s added that to this year’s course — though you could feasibly fit a good rope course under the broken bridge — but it does sound like a good trick for him to demonstrate at next year’s Tuesday night party at Boekelo. EN never forgets, Hector.

Formerly the second rider for William Fox-Pitt, he’s inherited his softness and tact in the saddle, producing educated, highly watchable rounds on a wide variety of horses. His ride here was formerly one of Lanky Will’s — Hector picked up the reins while William recovered from his 2015 accident, and when he was back in the saddle, he offered him the ride permanently. They made their five-star debut at Burghley in 2018, jumping a steady clear but withdrawing before the final horse inspection. They then returned to the level at Pau in 2020, picking up a 20 on course, and then had to sit out there next intended five-star last year because Hector broke his leg.

Though Dynasty’s not an easy character — his ‘little moments’ have gifted Hector a whole new set of teeth to the ones he grew himself — he’s generally a very good cross-country horse. On his day, he’s fairly swift, and he does tend to be reliable and consistent, though he did have a 20 in his prep run at Burnham Market CCI4*-S last month. We saw him make the time at Tattersalls CCI4*-L in 2018, finishing eighth. Last year, he was ninth in strong company at Burgham CCI4*-S, and he was tenth in the CCI4*-S at Little Downham last season. We’ll be looking for a low- to mid-30s dressage and then a jolly good fight for a clear round.

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Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

48: Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way (USA)

Eleven-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Mighty Magic x Straightaway, by Star Regent XX). Owned by Jennifer Mosing and Sterling Silver Stables. 

There’s every chance that Will Faudree’s horse (who is, yes, a gelding) has the best name of this year’s Badminton field — or at the very least, the most delightfully divisive. Saying ‘Mama’s Magic Way’ to someone is a little bit like hissing ‘moist’ at them as you walk by: their reaction will tell you everything you need to know about who they are. The sensible ones will simply light up and say, ‘oh, he’s special, isn’t he?’

And truly, this German gelding is special. He was produced by veteran German team rider Andreas Dibowski through the two-star level and joined Will’s string in 2019. Other than just one getting-to-know-you blip in a Preliminary (BE Novice) event in their first outing, and 11 penalties for activating a MIM clip in the five-star at Maryland, they’ve had nary an issue across the country, and have earned many fans with their fast, focused, classy rounds. We saw the gelding step up to five-star at Kentucky last year with big shoes to fill: the much more experienced Pfun had been sidelined with a minor injury, and so all Will’s hopes for the week rested on his young debutant. ‘Mason’ didn’t disappoint, and finished fourteenth after adding just 4.4 time penalties and a single rail to his 33.8 dressage. At Maryland he bettered his dressage score, posting a 31.9, and was quicker across the country, too, with just 3.2 time penalties, but that 11 for the MIM and three rails on Sunday pushed them to 24th place overall.

Will is well-known and widely respected for his dedication to his program and the well-being of his horses. He’s been through the wringer, but through it all he’s maintained a steadfast dedication to his horses and his craft. And no one could ever get away with calling Will anything but incredibly resilient: after breaking the C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck due to a fall in 2015, he was back on a horse — and winning — just six months later. Two years later, he would return to the five-star level, finishing 25th at Kentucky with Pfun in 2017.

While we won’t see this pair at the business end of the leaderboard after the first phase with their low-to-mid 30s score, we’ll certainly be looking to them to climb through the weekend. Mason is still young — one of the youngest in the field, in fact — but he’s got a fair amount of experience under his belt now, and Will won’t have come here to make up the numbers. This is one of the fastest, most reliable horses in the field for Saturday, and as long as they can keep the rails to a minimum on Sunday, we could see them help the US to a very respectable batch of results that show the country means business ahead of Pratoni’s WEG.

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49: Fiona Kashel and Creevagh Silver de Haar (GBR) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Camiro de Haar Z x Vanir Silver Rider, by Golden River). Owned by the rider.

Livery yard manager Fiona makes her five-star debut this week with the exciting Creevagh Silver de Haar, who is closely related to reigning Badminton champion Vanir Kamira: they’re both by the stallion Camiro de Haar Z, and Vanir Kamira’s dam was a full sister to this gelding’s dam. Fiona has had the ride on ‘Hero’ since 2015, taking over from fellow Brit JP Sheffield, who produced him to what is now the two-star level.

This is likely to be more of an educational run for the relatively low-mileage gelding, rather than a stab at a competitive one. He’s got eighteen FEI starts under his belt, but only stepped up to CCI4*-L at Blenheim last season, finishing 14th after adding nothing to his dressage score of 34.4. Prior to that, he had a good run and a twelfth place finish in Barbury’s CCI4*-S, but 60 penalties and a retirement at Bicton CCI4*-S, his first international run since 2018, was an inauspicious start to what was otherwise a good season for them last year. Prior to his two-and-a-half years away from the FEI rings, he had a roughly 50% strike rate for clears in CCI4*-S competitions, and while he’s on good form now, Fiona will want to use the opportunity to build his confidence and give him a super foundation for their next five-star outing. We’ll be looking for them to start on a mid-30s score, and then prioritise that education on the way round. On Sunday, they’ll likely have a couple of poles, but this naturally speedy, athletic horse is certainly one to keep an eye on for the future.

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Felicity Collins and RSH Content OR. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

50: Felicity Collins and RSH Contend OR (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Nintender x Coulonia, by Toulon). Owned by Vicky Collins and Avrina Milton.

RSH Contend OR is one of Felicity’s self-produced horses, and easily her most impressive: he helped her win the under-21 national title at Houghton in 2017, and then partnered her to 13th place at that summer’s Young Rider European Championships. That autumn, she moved him up to CCI4*-S, and he finished 14th in the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim. In 2018, he was clear around Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, and this year, the pair finished 15th in the Young Rider Europeans, at which the team won gold and the dynamic duo were chosen as pathfinders. They made their five-star debut at Pau in 2019, and though they didn’t complete, they learned an enormous amount about the complexities of this level. Since then, we’ve seen them finish in the top ten in CCI4*-S classes at Barbury and Burnham Market, and they jumped around the CCI4*-L for under-25s here in June, finishing thirteenth with 20 penalties under their belt. The jewel in their crown? A tenth place finish at Bicton’s pop-up five-star last August, which was a real dream come true for 24-year-old Felicity.

Remarkably, Felicity has competed horses at each of the national age finals – and she ticked all those boxes as a teenager, which just proves her innate ability to produce a youngster carefully and considerately. ‘Mickey’ certainly isn’t anyone’s ride, but Felicity has produced him sympathetically and has a super relationship with the talented, quirky gelding. The Bicton top ten will be tough to replicate in this much bigger field of entries, but they’re certainly ready to fight for a top twenty and tackle Eric Winter’s direct routes, which should see them climb from their low-to-mid 30s starting point. Mickey isn’t one of the fastest horses in the field but both horse and rider have stepped up a level in experience and confidence, and can put what they’ve learned to the test now. On Sunday, they should deliver a classy clear: typically, if Mickey has a rail it happens at a three-day, but he’s gotten better on the final day as he’s gained in strength.

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Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

51: Emily King and Valmy Biats (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Orlando x Aurelie du Prieure, by Hadj A). Owned by Phillippe Brivois. 

Emily King’s debutant gelding is a really exciting partner for her to partner in her return to Badminton. We last saw her here with the striking chestnut gelding Dargun in 2019, though they didn’t complete as she took a tumble on course. Prior to that, we saw her very nearly romp to a good placing aboard Brookleigh in 2016, but a freak fall at one of the final fences, which mirrored one her mother had taken years prior, meant that the dream didn’t come true that year, either. But hardworking Emily has kept on putting in the grind behind the scenes, producing an array of exciting horses, helmed by the talented Valmy.

This is actually quite a new partnership — a pandemic partnership, if you will. Emily was sent the horse to try by owner and breeder Phillippe, who offered to let her keep the ride if she covered the horse’s running costs. Sensing she was sitting on something special, she scrimped and saved to be able to campaign through the early part of their partnership in 2019, and then teamed up with the then-newly formed Event Horse Owners Syndicate, an innovative collective that offers annual ‘microshares’ in horses — a model that’s been highly successful in racing, but hadn’t yet made it to eventing. For less than £100 a year, ‘owners’ can buy in to the Valmy experience, receiving regular updates, yard visits, and quality time with Emily, ‘their’ horse, and other syndicate members out at competitions — and it was this set-up that allowed Emily to continue riding the gelding. The EHOS continued to support Valmy even when Emily was sidelined with an injury, and they got to enjoy seeing him in action at Aston le Walls CCI4*-S last year with Oliver Townend deputising. Oliver was quick to confirm that Emily had found an excellent prospect in Valmy, who’d been produced to CCI3*-L by French Olympian Mathieu Lemoine.

Since Emily’s been back on board, the pair have been working hard on building the kind of partnership that’s required for a test like this. Their run at Bicton under-25 CCI4*-L will certainly have helped: they had a pesky 11 penalties after taking out a corner on that course and being undoubtedly saved by its MIM clips, but the serious terrain and famously tough track there required both to dig deep and they walked away with a largely positive, confidence building experience — and for Emily, it was proof that her horse had the staying power to go to the top. They followed that ninth place finish with third in the CCI4*-S at Blair Castle in Scotland, again tackling some very tough terrain, and were eighth in their prep run in a very hot field at Thoresby CCI4*-S last month.

They can go sub-30, but very low 30s feels more likely for their step up test. Valmy is a quick, surefooted, clever horse, though Emily may decide to run him more steadily due to his relative in experience. If she opts to run for time and he doesn’t go green on course, we could see them chase down a very good top twenty finish, which they’ll undoubtedly improve upon in the future. For Emily, with her two ‘nearlies’ here before, crossing the Badminton finish line will feel like enough of a dream come true.

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Jonelle Price and Classic Moet. Photo by Shelby Allen.

52: Jonelle Price and Classic Moet (GBR)

Nineteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse mare (Classic x Gamston Bubbles, by Bohemond). Owned by Trisha and Sophie Rickards and the rider.

At nineteen, ‘Molly’ is the oldest horse in the field — but we wouldn’t advise you call her a geriatric to her face, because she’s also probably among the fiercest competitors here. The 2018 Badminton victors return with a vengeance after two productive trips to the US last year, where they finished in the top ten at both Kentucky and Maryland, and a winter spent showjumping at Vejer de la Frontera, where they won a CSI4* accumulator class. That’s pretty good going for Molly, whose one and only weakness would be the final phase: in 29 FEI eventing starts, she’s had 10 clear rounds and when she won here, it was after showjumping by Braille and praying to the eventing gods for none of those rails to fall. They didn’t, and the fairytale came true, but they’ll be grateful for having schooled for an extra few inches of airtime over the off-season.

Is Classic Moet the fastest horse in the world? It’s very possible – particularly when paired with her very, very quick rider. That’s what makes Classic Moet such a, well, classic contender for the likes of Burghley and Badminton – though her dressage has certainly come a long way over the last number of years, she’s not a first-phase leader. Instead, she climbs and climbs, and the tougher the time or the cross-country test, the better it suits our Molly.

“She’s so unspecial that she’s incredibly special,” says Jonelle. “There’s nothing fantastic; she’s quite an ordinary mover, a bit of an unorthodox jumper, but she’s got a ginormous heart. She’s got a huge will to be an event horse and she’s fierce and courageous.” There’s no doubt that Jonelle wants her exceptional mare to have a big result to close out her career with, and they’ll put up a great fight this week with one of the rounds of the day on Saturday.

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Alice Casburn and Topspin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

53: Alice Casburn and Topspin (GBR) 

Fourteen-year-old British-Bred Sport Horse gelding (Zento x Capriati). Owned by Caroline Casburn.

Our youngest rider in the field is just a fresh-faced twenty years old, but she’s already notched up some seriously impressive results with her homebred Topspin. Together, they’re a family legacy writ large: Alice’s mother, Caroline, rode at five-star herself, competing Topspin’s grandmother, mother, and then the gelding himself in the early stages of his career. Although he’s a whopping 17.2hh and petite Alice is whippet-slim, she took over the ride earlier in her teens and together, the pair have learned the sport and climbed the ranks quickly and competently. How quickly, exactly? Well, they made their FEI debut — a debut for both of them individually, not just as a combination — at the very end of the 2018 season. Yeah, they’re effectively three years into this game.

But what a three years it’s been. They’ve picked up five top-five international placings, including super second place finishes in their last two runs, the CCI4*-L at Blair Castle and the Pau-style CCI4*-S at Little Downham, and they’ve represented Great Britain on a Junior European Squad, finishing 16th at Maarsbergen in 2019. That Blair run was particularly impressive: it’s a seriously tough track over mountainous terrain, and the nearly full Thoroughbred gelding never looked like running out of steam for a moment. It was also the first chance for him to see significant crowds, which he’ll have to face this week, and though Alice was nervous about how he’d cope with them, she was delighted to discover that he loved seeing his fans at close quarters. When he faced the vocal and enthusiastic French crowd at their five-star debut at Pau last autumn, he responded similarly, and the pair delivered an excellent clear with 8.4 time penalties that had us all in our pony novel feelings.

The first phase is still the weak spot for this pair, who will likely post a mid-to-high-30s score — but with a course like this, there’s reason to leave the start box even if you’re near the bottom of the pack after the first phase, because so much will change on Saturday. Alice and Topspin are naturally quick, helped enormously by the fact that the gelding is polite and doesn’t pull, so Alice rarely needs to spend much time on set-up, and their long partnership and huge amount of trust means that the gelding is happy with a long or a short stride and will often make a last-minute adjustment himself to get the job done. On Sunday, they’ll be in their element: Alice has contested puissance classes with the gelding and jumped 1.40 classes, so they always feel confident coming into the ring. Pau tends to have the toughest showjumping course of any five-star, and last year, they delivered a sparkling clear round – the first of the day, after no small number of attempts from their competitors – to take their rightful place in the top twenty.

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James Rushbrooke and Milchem Eclipse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

54: James Rushbrooke and Milchem Eclipse (GBR) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by the rider.

25-year-old Yorkshireman and all-around stud James is having a highly exciting few months. He made his team debut in October, riding as part of the victorious British line-up at Boekelo CCIO4*-L, and now comes forward for his five-star debut aboard one of the youngest horses in this year’s Badminton field. The ‘slightly weird’ Milchem Eclipse was intended as a sales horse for James, who also moonlights as a Master for the Badsworth and Bramham Moor Hunt, but earned his right to stick around on James’s Leeds yard after proving his game, gutsy knack for jumping solid fences.

This will be his 20th FEI start, and with just two blips on his record thus far, he’s certainly proven himself as a proper sort. He’s naturally efficient, and plenty honest — any wobbles so far have certainly looked more like green, educational ones, and while a 20 and an activated MIM in the CCI4*-S at Burnham Market last month isn’t ideal prep, it could well have served to knock a bit of rust off. He’s also a handy show jumper, and should use himself well on the final day.

Though this will be an educational debut for the gelding, there’s plenty of reason to suspect he could make a very good job of the week. His dressage, which fluctuates between the low and high-30s, will keep him out of the hunt early on, but if he gets in a good, attacking rhythm from the early stages of the course and James decides to try to catch the minute markers, we could see a serious climb — particularly as their hunting background will really help them out on this course. Of course, it’s just as likely that James will opt for a steadier, confidence-building round with some long routes, and that wouldn’t be unwise. There’s plenty of time for competitive runs in the many seasons ahead of this cool young horse.

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Matt Flynn and Wizzerd. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

55: Matt Flynn and Wizzerd (USA)

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Wizzerd x Amai, by Oklund). Owned by A. Patrick Flynn, Kathleen Flynn, and Merry Go Round Farm. 

Matt and Wizzerd are on something of a magical mystery tour of Europe at the moment: they came over at the tail end of last year to ride as part of the US team at the Nations Cup final at Boekelo, and then rerouted on to Montelibretti and Pratoni in Italy after an unlucky tumble. Then, Wizzerd enjoyed a holiday at Arville Castle, the Belgian home of Germany’s Kai-Steffen Meier and his wife, Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier, and after beginning their winter training campaign there, they relocated to England, where they’ve been training since January with the Prices.

It might have meant giving up Ocala’s balmy temperatures for the aggressive wind chill factor of early-season England, but what an opportunity it’s been for Matt and his wonderful gelding, who began their season in earnest at the Thoresby CCI4*-S last month. They had a silly, keen 20 penalties there, but it’ll have knocked the off-season rust off and will have sharpened them both up ahead of their Badminton debut, which will be their third five-star start. They made their debut at Kentucky in 2019, jumping a cool clear for 21st place, and then returned in 2021, delivering another clear and finishing 22nd. They’ve certainly got what it takes to do the same again in this run, but they’ll need to put some recent blips behind them and focus on hunting down the questions on front of them.

They can go sub-30, and have done so a number of times at four-star, but at five-star they’ve scored in the 30s, so aiming for sub-35 will be a solid goal to start the week. That’ll put them in a nice position: the pressure will be eased off a little bit, but they’ll be able to climb with a good round. On Sunday, they’ve got about a 50/50 shot at jumping clear, and tend to do so more often at three-days. Both horse and rider have risen to the occasion admirably at the level before, and absolutely can do so again. Don’t underestimate them.

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Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

56: Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet (GBR)

Eighteen-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 personal best 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. In 2019, they rerouted to Luhmühlen after retiring at Badminton and finished fifth in the German five-star; that autumn, they followed it up with fourth at Burghley. They’ve had great placings and runs (plus some 23s in dressage) in four-stars since but just one five-star through the pandemic, which was a trip to Pau in 2020. They pulled up on course there after Sarah’s stirrup leather detached itself from her saddle — a really rubbish bit of bad luck but no fault of horse or rider. Certainly, it’s hard not to feel that they’re due a big one, and in what might be the gelding’s final season, it would be a fairytale win worthy of this event.

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Hazel Shannon and Willingapark Clifford. Photo by Julie Wilson.

61: Hazel Shannon and Willingapark Clifford (AUS)

Seventeen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Passing Shot xx x unknown dam). Owned by Terrence Snow. 

Hazel and Clifford are one of eleven (!) five-star winning entrants in this year’s field, and what an extraordinary treat it’ll be for us to get to see them in action. Hazel and Willingapark Clifford make their Badminton debut after winning Adelaide CCI5* an incredible three times, and with their home fixture cancelled for the second year in a row last season, they’re refusing to let the latter years of the gelding’s career go to waste. We saw them come to Europe for the first time for Pau last year, though they withdrew after dressage, and they’ve since been based in the UK with fellow Aussies Kevin and Emma McNab.

Tasmanian Thoroughbred Clifford was so hopeless as a racing prospect that he didn’t even make it to starting gate training, but in 2011, when Hazel was just eighteen and had a year of eventing experience under her belt, they came together courtesy of Clifford’s then-owners, who lived next door to Australian superstar Heath Ryan, with whom Hazel was training. Their record since has been remarkable: over 39 FEI starts, they’ve picked up 28 top-ten finishes, including 11 wins. Of course, Australia’s eventing scene is a very different beast to Europe’s, but the partnership these two have will make them a formidable duo as they tackle their eighth five-star. They’ll need to put a very rare 20 at Kentucky in 2019 behind them and focus on what is well in their wheelhouse: a low-30s score, a quick clear, and a final round that’s got a 50/50 shot of being clear. If they tick those boxes — and keep that rail up — expect to see them muscling their way into the top twenty or better. That would give the pair a great shot of a spot on the Australian squad for this autumn’s World Championships in Pratoni.

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Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati and DSP Cosma. Photo by FEI/Massimo Argenziano.

62: Katrin Khoddam-Hazrati and DSP Cosma (AUT)

Thirteen-year-old Brandenburg mare (Canterbury x Farah, by Ferman). Owned by the rider.

This will be a third five-star start for Cosma, who made her debut at Burghley in 2018 as a nine-year-old, ultimately retiring on course after a round that had some hairy moments, but proved a valuable education for the hot young horse. Katrin rerouted her to Pau the following month, where she ran much better over the tight, technical course, logging a steady clear for 26th place.

Katrin and Cosma faced major disappointment last season, when they saw their dreams come true – they went to Tokyo to represent Austria in the Olympics – and then saw those dreams crumble once again when the horse had to be withdrawn before the first phase due to a minor setback. They’ve had some mixed results in the past, but they’ve also notched up a fair few top-ten placings in international competitions, and they delivered a clear round around the fiendishly tricky track at 2017’s European Championships – Strzegom is a venue that historically suits them very well.

They won’t be your winners this week, as their high 30s first-phase mark and steady cross-country speed will keep them out of the hunt. But a confident clear, a few calculated risks, and a one-rail round on Sunday would prove that they’ve settled into a rhythm and would certainly help them on their quest to make up for Tokyo in Pratoni this year.

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Dom Schramm and Bolytair B. Photo by William Carey.

64: Dom Schramm and Bolytair B (AUS)

Sixteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Polytair x Nobelle). Owned by the Naked Horse Eventing Syndicate.

US-based Aussies Dom and Boly haven’t been persuaded to swap nationalities just yet, and so they add another stamp in their passport en route to bolstering their home nation’s competitive entry this year. We last saw them touch down on British soil back in 2019, when they were part of that convoy of ‘Muricans (and ‘Muricans-by-proxy) who ventured over for what was arguably the toughest Burghley we’ve seen in a generation.

They enjoyed an educational run that day, coming home as one of many riders to knock a frangible device and picking up a healthy amount of time penalties, too, but that completion proved exactly what they’re made of, and we’ve seen them improve their form on each of their subsequent runs at the level since. At Kentucky last year they added 12 time penalties across the country and finished just outside the top 30; at the inaugural Maryland CCI5* in October, they shaved that down to an impressive 3.6 time penalties.

Boly is a big, powerful horse who’s taken a while to be packageable on the flat, and while his low-30s mark won’t have him at the top of the leaderboard after the first phase, it’ll offer them a low-pressure climbing frame to work their way up with, one quietly hopes, their fastest five-star round yet. It’s also a marker of their constant commitment to improving their marks, which have been creeping in the right direction over the past few seasons – evidenced by their two second places in CCI4*-S classes at Bromont and Stable View last season. They’ll probably have a rail down on Sunday, but we’re looking forward to seeing Dom and Boly at their best at Badminton. Everything looks to be pointing in that direction for them.

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Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes. Photo by Shelby Allen.

65: Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes (CAN)

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Chacoa x KEC Galway Bay, by Gildawn Diamond). Owned by Kirk Hoppner and the rider.

This will be a third five-star start for this Canadian duo, who competed at Kentucky and Maryland last season. Their classy Kentucky run was, unluckily, cut short by a bit of a freak fall, but they regrouped and made light, though steady, work of the Maryland track in October to finish in 28th place. Between those two five-star starts, we saw them finish in sixth place in a CCI4*-S at Stable View and the CCI4*-L at Jersey Fresh, showing just how competitive they can be on their day.

So what can we expect? Realistically, a first-phase performance that’ll leave them in the bottom half of the pack; they’re pretty consistent mid-to-high 30s scorers. But climbing the board at Badminton is a time-honoured sport in and of itself, and though this isn’t the speediest combo in the field, they’re reliable and clever across the country, and they’re stayers. If we get a tough course and tricky conditions, they’ll dig deep, put their heads down, and keep on keepin’ on – and that, friends, will be very valuable. On Sunday, they can go clear or have two rails, and seldom do we see anything that departs from those two options.

Badminton will almost certainly be part of a bold bid for a trip to Pratoni later on this year, and a solid week would certainly put them well in the running for selection. They’ve represented Canada before – they went to the Pan-American Games in Lima in 2019, where they finished just outside the top ten despite an uncharacteristic 20 penalties across the country – but Karl is hungry for his sophomore senior championship experience. Speaking of experiences, this will be Karl’s first time competing across the pond – and we’re really hoping he’s packed a Nickelback t-shirt for his Badminton cocktail party debut. We hear the aristocracy love a bit of early-noughties radio rock. How aboot it, Karl?

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Susie Berry and John the Bull. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

66: Susie Berry and John the Bull (IRE) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Luidam x Think About It, by Houmayoun). Owned by Helen Caton and Caroline Berry. 

Speaking of the Great Irish Rebuilding Project, as we’ve just dubbed it, it’s incredibly exciting to see British-based Susie Berry make her debut at the top level this spring. Previously based with Piggy March, for whom she worked as a second rider, she partners fellow debutant John the Bull, who was formerly ridden by Irish compatriot Jonty Evans.

We’ll actually see a former Susie mount in action a week beforehand, at Kentucky – she competed Morswood, now the ride of Allie Knowles, at the Young Rider European Championships while still based with Piggy. This week, though, it’s all about the charmingly named John the Bull, who’s small but certainly mighty.

The pair finished their 2021 season with an exceptional week at Blenheim, finishing third in the CCI4*-L after adding nothing to their first-phase score of 27.9 – their best-ever four-star score. That was actually their first full CCI4*-L run, as they withdrew after dressage in their level debut at Burnham Market in 2020 and withdrew before dressage in last year’s under-25s CCI4*-L at Bicton. That means they come to their Badminton debut with slightly less mileage than some of their fellow debutants, but it’s not hard to see why they’re committing to the gamble: when John is good, focused, and on the ball (rather than, um, on the bull), he’s a seriously hot competitor. On his day, we’re looking at a sub-30 dressage score, a quick and committed cross-country round, and a decent showjumping performance that does still tend to yield a rail – but often, Susie opts to run him a bit slower and prioritise his education, which is a savvy move but does keep them rather out of the spotlight.

Cross-country jumping whoopsies at Houghton Hall CCIO4*-S last year and Thoresby CCI4*-S this month do lend something of a question mark to what we can expect to see at Badminton, but there’s no shortage of talent between the two, and if the week doesn’t go quite to plan, it’ll all be used as valuable homework to help them build for the future. Like her mentor, reigning champion Piggy, Susie is a smart and analytical rider with an innate sense of horsemanship and a pragmatic sort of wisdom beyond her years. This will be the jumping off point for some big things to come.

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Maxime Livio and Vitorio du Montet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

67: Maxime Livio and Vitorio du Montet (FRA)

Thirteen-year-old Selle Français stallion (Lando x Jenlah des Yvers SF, by Arpege Pierreville *HN). Owned by Philippe Asclipe and S.C.E.A. Ecurie Livio.

We’ll forgive you if you take one look at Vitorio du Montet at the trot-up and write him off entirely. The French horses are, by and large, an unconventional sort, but this lanky bay truly takes the cake – he’s not put together in a way that makes sense at first glance, and his movement and jumping style are hardly textbook. But boy, is he a consistent, tough performer – and that’s what’s allowed him to finish on his dressage score and walk away with top-ten finishes in both his five-star starts so far.

Both those runs were at Pau, and Vitorio is certainly catty enough to cope with all its twists and turns – but Badminton is a very different beast. How far he’s able to climb will also depend a lot on the first phase; he can go very nearly sub-30, as he did at Pau last year, but he can also hit 40. He’s up against some serious first-phase heavy-hitters this week, and Maxime will be praying for a good draw that doesn’t see him head down the centreline just after the likes of London 52, because no matter how accurately he rides, the horse simply isn’t the same sort of beast on the flat.

But Vitorio is a horse that challenges you to think outside the box, and he could surprise an awful lot of people this week who judge him based off of their initial impressions. At the end of the day, isn’t that eventing’s essence distilled – that an unlikely stamp can become a champion purely off the back of sheer guts, gumption, and an awful lot of work put into nailing the basics? We reckon so. Also Maxime is beautiful, so we know everyone will tune in for his rides regardless.

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Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

68: Sarah Way and Dassett Cooley Dun (GBR)

Sixteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Kate Willis and Mel Pritchard.

At just 15.1hh, Mini Mouse might be the smallest entry in the field, but he’s got one of the biggest personalities – and once you’ve seen the pint-sized dun tear up a cross-country track, it’s hard not to become one of his fervent cheerleaders. He’s tiny, he’s golden, he’s what your childhood dreams were made of – and Dassett Cooley Dun is ready to go and show Badminton who’s boss, in that delightful way that only small and golden things can. This will be his third five-star; he went to Pau in 2018 for his debut and finished in the top 30 after a solitary issue across the country. Then he returned in 2019, finishing in 10th and earning himself another wide swathe of new fans int he process.

He’ll probably score in the high 30s in the first phase, so won’t challenge the leaders, but it’s all about the cross-country here with this little guy, who’s a real little fighter. There are some blips on his record, including a 20 in that very tough CCI4*-L at Bicton last year, a horse fall at Aston prior to that, and a 20 at Burnham Market prior to that, but by the end of 2021, they looked to have put the wheels back on the bus and delivered a smart trio of performances at Little Downham CCI4*-S for eighth place. They’ve started this year on good form, too, with a steady prep run in the CCI4*-S at Thoresby.

Of course, a five-star track is always a big ask for a small pony, but Napoleon managed to conquer most of Europe at one point or another, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never doubt a short man. He and Sarah will be hunting the flags all the way home, and we reckon they’ll win the hearts of every spectator they pass along the way.

Oh, Mouse has a Facebook fan page, too – it’s well worth a follow.

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Mike Winter and El Mundo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

69: Mike Winter and El Mundo (CAN)

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Numero Uno x Calvaro’s Bria Z, by Calvaro F.C.). Owned by Jonathan Nelson, Emma Winter, and the rider.

Talk about cutting it fine — Mike and El Mundo made it off the waitlist just six and a half hours before the deadline on Sunday, prompting a sigh of relief that could be heard across the country. Fortunately for them, they’re based in the UK, not Canada, which would have prompted a seriously bittersweet withdrawal. Double Olympian Mike is based near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, with his wife Emma, who he met in that renowned oasis of eventing love, Florida.

Mike bought El Mundo as a six-year-old from fellow eventer Dani Evans, and wasn’t necessarily intending to keep the ride — his business is in producing and selling very good horses, and what comes in generally has to leave again sooner rather than later. But a major injury meant the gelding had to spend a long period of time on box rest, and Mike devoted himself to caring for the horse around the clock. In that time, they formed such a close bond that selling him was no longer an option on the table, and since then, we’ve all had the joy of watching them climb the levels.

This will be El Mundo’s third five-star: he made his debut at Bicton last year, but was retired after a couple of green errors, and then rerouted to Pau, where he jumped a classy, steady clear for 25th place. Eric’s track looks like it’ll suit him a bit more than the tight twists and turns of the French five-star, and he’s had a good spring season with positive runs in the CCI4*-S classes at Thoresby and Burnham Market.

There’s a very good tests in this horse, but we probably won’t see him hit the 20s just yet — he still has a bit of tension in the first phase that usually sees him sit around the 35 mark, though he did put a 29.6 on the board at Bicton last year, and hit the low-30s at Pau. He won’t be among the fastest in the field, either, but he and Mike have a super partnership that’ll come in handy around a course like this one, which relies so heavily on solid communication and adaptability. They tend to have a rail in a three-day, but shouldn’t have more — and even with a rail, a good performance here will give the Canadian selectors plenty to think about ahead of the World Championships this September.

(Oh, and there’s another jolly good reason to give Mike a big cheer this week: he rides with Black Lives Matter stirrup irons, and is a vocal ally in the fight against racial discrimination in the industry.)

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Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

70: Laura Collett and London 52 (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Landos x Vernante, by Quinar). Owned by Keith Scott, Karen Bartlett, and the rider. 

Few horses put us through the emotional wringer as much as London 52, known at home as Dan, did in 2019. The 2018 winner of the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S — a class known for the successive five-star victories of its illustrious list of victors — had only started eventing in 2016 after an early showjumping career, but his extraordinary trajectory made it so easy to forget how inexperienced he really was. Thrust into the limelight after that Blenheim win and a second place in his debut CCI4*-L at Boekelo the following month, he was a pundit’s favourite in early 2019, and that faith was rewarded with a win in the Event Rider Masters CCI4*-S at Chatsworth.

But then the wheels came off the bus a bit, as they often do with young horses who still have plenty to learn — it’s just that those young horses aren’t usually in the spotlight, and they can undergo their learning curves without the world watching them. The pair headed next to Bramham for its top-end CCI4*-L, but the week was full of surprises: the ordinarily super-consistent dressage horse produced a 31.7 in the first phase and stopped at the influential coffin. Laura retired him and explained, “I wasn’t riding, really. He needs help – he’s still young, but I was riding him there like he was too good, and I should just leave him alone. I didn’t want to mess it up, and in doing so, I messed it up.

“It was really difficult because he’d had really good results, but I felt like there was something missing in his rounds, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It took it going really wrong for me to kind of pull myself together and remember that I have to ride them. I went through slightly the same phase with Mr Bass; I’m so lucky that these horses are so unbelievable, but it’s difficult when they’re so high-profile. You spend so much time trying not to mess up that you can get a bit defensive.”

Next, they went to Aachen, where they led going into the final phase — but a glance off at the final combination meant more heartbreak. These things come in threes, as we all seem to tell ourselves, and so they did: the pair were selected for the European Championships as individuals, where they performed superbly until the final water. Here, they fell foul of the bird in the pond that saw so many riders go for a swim.

And so Laura made a plan: she wanted to fill Dan with the confidence he deserved and help him to learn from the issues of the middle of the year. She took him back to Boekelo CCI4*-L, where he’d done so well previously, knowing that the flowing, fair course would give him the chance to just enjoy his work. The strategy paid off, and the duo took an emotional win.

From then on out, she’s told EN, he’s been a whole new horse — full of confidence and twice as mature for everything he did in 2019. In 2020, he went on to win his first five-star at Pau, setting a record for the lowest-ever finishing score at the level with his exceptional 21.3, which slips down to the second-best ever finishing score after Michael Jung’s Kentucky record-breaker last week. In 2021, he won the CCI4*-S at Aston le Walls against an enormous, high-class field, and he was fourth in the Olympic selection trial at Bicton CCI4*-S. He went on to help the British team to gold at Tokyo, where he finished ninth individually, and he was third in the Badminton prep CCI4*-S at Thoresby last month. He and Laura come into Badminton as the hot favourites as predicted by EquiRatings, and are almost certain to feature in the top three — if not the lead — after the first phase. The Badminton track will be his toughest yet, but he hasn’t finished outside the top nine in an FEI event since winning Boekelo in 2019, and he’s become seriously reliable, ultra-fast, and he’s one of the field’s best show jumpers, too.

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Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

71: Rosie Fry and True Blue Too II (GBR) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Eleven-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Jigilo x Kind of Blue, by Terimon). Owned by D J White-Hamilton. 

At just ten years old, True Blue Too II (say that three times fast) won the Blair CCI4*-L last year in fine style, fighting his way to the finish over one of the world’s most tricky bits of terrain. That win gave Rosie all the impetus she needed to start dreaming of the biggest ‘B’ event of them all, particularly because it slayed a demon or two: nine years prior, Rosie had found herself in the lead going into showjumping in the same event, but had had four rails down and dropped out of contention. We suspect she didn’t sleep much on Saturday night, but when it came down to crunch time, she proved that pressure is how diamonds are created.

‘Balou’ is a particularly special horse for Rosie, because he’s a real family project. He was bred by her aunt, Di White-Hamilton, who retains ownership of the horse, and so Rosie has known him his entire life. He’s also been shod his entire life by one farrier, Neil Watts, who came out of his recent retirement to ensure he could be the one to shoe the horse for his Badminton debut. There’s a farrier’s prize on the line this week, too, so fingers crossed for you, Neil!

Rosie and Balou’s prep run at Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S didn’t quite go to plan, with a 20 and a MIM activation on cross-country, but they won Blair after a 20 at Bicton CCI4*-L last year, so it may well work to act as a sharpener before the big day. This week is all about coming home with a happy, healthy, sound horse who’ll have learned plenty, because at just eleven, he has plenty of years left in his career to fight for a big win. An upper-30s mark, a steady run, and a couple of rails will all be part of his ongoing education this week.

Rosie is also this year’s blogger for Badminton’s website — you can catch up with her latest entry here.

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Libby Seed and Heartbreaker Star Quality. Photo by Leszek Wójcik.

72: Libby Seed and Heartbreaker Star Quality (GBR) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Boswell Mr Heart Breaker x Killard Quality, by OBOS Quality 004). Owned by Jonathan and Lesley Seed.

This will be a five-star debut for both 24-year-old Libby and her game, plucky mare — and even more excitingly, Libby comes to Badminton as another of our true amateur riders on the entry list. She works full-time as a medical sales executive, continuing on an impressive balancing act that she honed while juggling eventing and a degree in Medical Sciences at Exeter.

Libby has a sparkling career as a young rider behind her: she rode on the British team at the Pony European Championships in 2013, where the team took gold, and in 2017, she rode as an individual at the Young Rider Europeans, earning herself a top twenty result. That’s certainly not to say that she’s stepped it down a notch as a senior competitor, though: she took her first international win last year in the CCI4*-L in Strzegom with Heartbreaker Star Quality, adding just 2.4 time penalties across the country and 0.8 in showjumping to their first-phase score of 34.7.

This is one of the youngest horses — and one of the youngest riders! — in this year’s field, and with plenty of time and a tonne of opportunities ahead of them, they’ll be here to learn as much as possible and build a formidable foundation for the future. A mid-to-high 30s score to start with will take some of the pressure off them so they can focus on Eric’s tough track on Saturday, which we suspect they’ll have quite a lot of fun tackling — insomuch as anyone can have fun at a five-star, anyway. They’ve only got ever faulted across the country at one FEI event, and that was the very tough CCI4*-L at Bicton last year, which they followed up with that Strzegom win. Those are their only two runs at the level, so expect to see some sensible routes and time penalties — but that patience will pay off dividends in the future, because this is a naturally fast horse who also show jumps very well, and a careful, confidence-building run now will put them in a great position to come back and fight the big boys in future.

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Bubby Upton and Cola III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

73: Bubby Upton and Cola III (GBR)

Twelve-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Catoki x Vanessa XII, by Contender). Owned by Rachel Upton. 

This isn’t 23-year-old Bubby’s first five-star — she ticked that box last year at Pau — but it is her first Badminton, and the British eventing community has been rather waiting on tenterhooks for the moment this fierce talent would step up to the level on home soil. The current British under-25 national champion has already proven herself against many of the world’s very best riders, consistently placing in enormous four-star fields with her string of horses. That string continues to blossom and grow, too: she’s based at Cheddington in the West Country alongside Chris Burton, and after his recent retirement from eventing she took on two of his rides in Blenheim CCI4*-S winner Clever Louis and Jefferson. She’s represented Britain at Pony, Junior, and Young Rider level, winning silver individual medals at Pony and Young Rider European Championships and becoming Junior European Champion in 2017 with Eros DHI.

Her Badminton mount, Cola, has been a horse she’s grown up alongside. They’ve been to two Young Rider Europeans together, winning team gold and individual silver in 2019, and have ticked off plenty of milestones on their journey up the levels. They haven’t just focused on Bubby’s age classes, either: they contested the CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds at Blenheim in 2019, finishing in the top twenty. At their five-star debut last year, they finished 12th, just dropping out of the placings after tipping two rails on the final day — but the strength of their performances, particularly across the country, shone through. They finished inside the time and Bubby rode with a maturity well beyond her years, which is something we’ve seen from her time and time again.

This really does feel like the time for young British talent to rise to the top, and Bubby will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Luhmühlen winner Mollie Summerland and Kentucky runner-up Yasmin Ingham in delivering a serious set of performances for a very good finish. They should start out sub-30, and they’re among the fastest four-star pairs in the field. Showjumping remains their slightly weaker phase, and there’ll be plenty of crossed fingers in the Upton camp as she tackles the final phase, but if all goes well, we could see them sneak into the top ten and really make a solid impression ahead of this year’s World Championships.

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Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

74: Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge (FRA) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Quppydam des Horts x Image de la Loge, by Dollar du Murier). Owned by Augustin and Frederique Grand.

It’s a long-awaited five-star debut for the excellent Aisprit, and a kind-of debut for Gireg, who stepped up to five-star at Pau in 2013 but had a fall on course. Now he’s back and will make his Badminton debut with his horse of a lifetime, with whom he was propelled into the spotlight in 2019 when he won the Jardy leg of the Event Rider Masters series. That was only the horse’s second four-star, and he bested an influential Pierre Michelet track to get it done – and afterwards, Gireg credited the horse’s extraordinary honesty with securing the win.

That’s one of those qualities that money can’t buy and breeding can’t guarantee: either the horse is genuine and will dig deep to find his way to the other side of the fence, even if things go a bit pear-shaped, or he won’t. Aisprit is absolutely, quantifiably the former type of horse, and while Badminton will be a test unlike any he’s faced before, he’s absolutely gritty enough to take it on. A silly rider fall late on course at Aachen last year shouldn’t dent their confidence much at all, because it’s such an outlier in an FEI record that’s seen them finish in the top ten 13 times in 23 runs.

Gireg, who is based at Le Lion d’Angers, the site of the FEI Young Horse World Championships for eventing, will be the first to admit that Aisprit’s first phase performances can lack some ‘serenity’, and while he consistently scores in the 28-32 range, we’d expect to see him perform at the higher end of his natural spectrum in his first five-star test. Gireg has also played around with the gelding’s bitting set-up; he used to ride him in a hackamore, but after the horse had nearly a year out due to injury in 2020, he discovered that the arrangement wasn’t working quite as well anymore, and now rides him in a simple snaffle across the country.

We’d consider this duo dark horse contenders for a very competitive placing – and though Gireg hasn’t contested Badminton before, he spent some time based with Sam Griffiths, who won in 2014, one of the most influential years. We reckon he picked up a thing or two from the newly-minted Kiwi team coach, who’s also hosting him in the lead-up to Badminton.

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Clare Abbott and Jewelent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

75: Clare Abbott and Jewelent (IRE) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Valent x Bellaney Jewel, by Roselier). Owned by Barbra Allen and Lisa Rosbotham.

There’s a lot to like about this elegant debutant, not least his breeding: he’s a full brother to the very good eight-year-old Cooley Rosalent, who was Reserve World Champion in the six-year-old class at Le Lion two years ago, and finished seventh in the seven-year-old class last year. She’s widely regarded as one of Britain’s most promising up-and-comers, and so it’s easy to see why Clare – who shot to prominence with her longtime partner Euro Prince – has so much faith in the mare’s older brother, who is still partly owned by the Rosbotham family, who bred both horses.

In their 16 FEI competitions together so far, maths teacher Clare and Jewelent have finished in the top twenty thirteen times – the only outliers have been the gelding’s international debut, where he performed well in all three phases and was 24th in a big field, the CCI4*-S at Millstreet in 2021, where he was withdrawn after dressage, and this month’s Thoresby CCI4*-S, where he had the only cross-country jumping penalties of his FEI career. He certainly wasn’t the only Badminton entrant to do so, and the rest of his record is promising enough that we’re happy to cautiously chalk it up to early-season exuberance over the twisty, technical track there – which could actually serve as exactly the sort of wake-up call he needs before stepping up to the big leagues.

Jewelent first impressed as a young horse, finishing eighth in the Six-Year-Old World Championship in 2018 and twelfth in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship the following year. He’s since had five top-ten finishes at four-star, including a win in the CCI4*-S at Kilguilkey House last year, and he received his senior championship call-up last September, too, when he headed to Avenches for the European Championships. The duo finished best of the Irish and took 14th place individually.

While a debutant horse is always something of a wildcard, and that 20 at Thoresby certainly adds some weight to predictions, this is a very interesting debutant to keep an eye on, both as a competitive entity for the week ahead – he could squeak sub-30 on the flat and he’s quick and bold across the country – and as one of Ireland’s biggest hopes in its ongoing rebuilding process through this Olympic cycle and beyond.

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77: Arthur Duffort and Toronto d’Aurois (FRA)

Fifteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Polack II x Jovaly d’Aurois, by Daloubet d’Evordes). Owned by Julie and Paul Gatien and the rider.

British-based Arthur is no slouch — he’s been hard at work since his days riding for Andrew Nicholson, building himself a solid string of horses and chasing the five-star dream. He finally achieved it last year, making his five-star debut at Burghley, where he and Toronto finished in the top 30 after one green wobble on course.

After some teething problems in the horse’s first year at the four-star level, Toronto seems to be on a roll – he’s jumped seven consecutive clears at the level, making light work of tough tracks like Hartpury, Blair, and Bramham. Like many horses, he’s had a reasonably quiet couple of years, but did manage trips to Pau in 2020 and 2021.

This pair are still gaining essential experience at the five-star level after completing Burghley with a 20 in 2019, jumping clear at Pau in 2020, and sort of jumping clear again last year, though they did pick up a technical elimination late on course there. It won’t have done either of them any harm, though, and they can certainly be considered as going from strength to strength.

This will be their first Badminton, but Eric’s is a track that tends to suit the French style of training and riding, and that could play in Arthur’s favour — though he’s been British-based for so long that his own style is much more of a melting pot of methods than that of his teammates. Still, he won’t be coming here to win this year — instead, we’ll be looking out for a mid-30s dressage to improve upon the high-30s they’ve previously produced at the level, and then a good, confidence-building round on Saturday, taking a long route or two as necessary.

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78: Tom Carlile and Zanzibar Villa Rose Z (FRA) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Ten-year-old Zangersheide gelding (Zandor Z x Ukraine Villa Rose, by Arioso du Theillet). Owned by Philippe Lacaze and Michel Lecuelle.

This has got to be one of the most fascinating entries on this jam-packed list, because on the one hand, you’ve got one of the most hotly-anticipated five-star debuts ever – like, yes, news flash, Tom Carlile actually hasn’t done a five-star yet! – and then, on the other hand, none of us outside of France know who this horse is. Extraordinary stuff! But actually, in a way, this is further testament to Tom’s reputation as being the maestro of young horses; he’s been producing so many quality animals in the under-10s category that we all just sort of missed this one.

Zanzibar joined Tom’s string as a six-year-old after being produced through the age classes for jumping by Marie Correge, and he very quickly started putting some exciting results on the board: he jumped clear and inside the time around his first three two-stars, though showjumping faults kept him from troubling the leaders. On his CCI3*-S debut he very nearly finished on his dressage score of 38.5, just adding an accumulated total of 2.8 time penalties, but that was good enough to see him finish seventh and prove that he could be a competitive entity if that final phase could be sorted out. Further placings followed at his CCI3*-L and CCI4*-S debuts, but since stepping up to four-star, his record has been a bit of a tale of two extremes: he either comes very, very close to stealing a win, or he has a 20 on cross-country and puts himself right out of the hunt. He’s gone clear in just one of his three CCI4*-L runs – reassuringly, it was his most recent, and he finished third – and his overall four-star record sees him with four clears out of seven starts.

It’s certainly something of a gamble stepping the horse up at Badminton, but Tom’s judgment with young horses has always been impeccable and he’s proven time and time again that he’s not racing to hit milestones – otherwise, he’d have had plenty of opportunities to step up to the level previously, if he was willing to disregard his own instincts.

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Tina Cook and Billy the Red. Photo by William Carey.

79: Tina Cook and Billy The Red (GBR)

WITHDRAWN

Fifteen-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Balou du Rouet x FBW Simply Red, by Stan the Man). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch and Keith Tyson.

One of the most experienced horses in the field, Billy the Red makes his long-awaited return to Badminton after a relatively low-key couple of years. The West Sussex-based rider, too, is one of the most experienced in the field, and she comes from good horsey stock – 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 in 2018 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 went to the 2019 Europeans where he picked up a highly uncharacteristic 20 penalties — ordinarily, he’s one of the most consistent cross-country horses on the circuit, and in five five-star runs, he’s got four top-ten finishes. Pau last year is the outlier, and that was a 16th place finish after picking up 8 time penalties.

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 that year and then, less than two weeks later, won Hartpury after putting a 25.6 on the board. His six-run average is 28.5, but he’s dropped as low as 25.5 at four-star this year, and his odd little phase seems to be well behind him. His last five-star, which was Pau last year, saw him score a 29.2, and he posted a 28.1 last time he came here, so we can reasonably expect another competitive mark in the first phase that’ll put him in or close to the top twenty going into cross-country.

“[Billy] has just got a bright brain; he’s not malicious, and he’s not nasty — he was just born bright and it’s just about finding the key. He isn’t one you’d want to overwork, as he’d probably get worse, so it’s just that fine line of doing twenty minutes and then hoping,” Tina explained to EN this spring. “He’s desperately spooky — oh my god — on hacks and stuff like that. He’s always the same, but that’ll be him all his life; sometimes he spooks at flowers, sometimes he doesn’t, and so I always have to prepared for the unexpected. You just have to smile your legs around him, smile, and get on with it! I ride him at home myself — I don’t think it’s fair on anyone else to have to ride him just in case anything happens, so it’s me and him all the time.”

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Cedric Lyard and Unum De’Or. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

80: Cedric Lyard and Unum De’Or (FRA)

Fourteen-year-old Anglo Arab gelding (Yarlands Summer Song x Fee du Logis, by Prince Ig’Or). Owned by Marie-Christine Duroy and Renaud de Lauriere and the rider.

Unum made his five-star debut last season at Pau, performing admirably to take ninth place after adding 2.4 time penalties on cross-country, and a further 1.6 in showjumping, to his 31.6 dressage. Prior to that, he’d been a horse that performed respectably but never really made a splash, largely due to his high-30s dressage marks – but the notable exception to this, other than that Pau run, is his trip to Bramham to contest the CCI4*-L in 2018. We say it a lot, but that’s because it bears repeating: Bramham is as tough as a four-star gets, with huge terrain challenges to match the tough, big, bold and technical Ian Stark track. If a horse does well there, it says an awful lot about what they’ll go on to do in future. In 2018, Unum was ninth, and his 1.2 time penalty cross-country round was one of the fastest of the day.

He’s reliably quick, and mostly reliable, though he’s had the odd blip, including a 20 in a CCI3*-L at Haras du Pin in 2020. His showjumping, too, tends to be pretty consistent, and is usually at its best on the final day of a three-day. The major stumbling block for him will be the first phase, which is generally a mid-to-high 30s affair, but did dip down quite excitingly to the very low 30s at Pau. This is a bigger field, though, with seriously hot competition, and we’re expecting the marking to be tougher as a result. Look to them to work on a big climb.

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81: Joris Vanspringel and Creator GS (BEL) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Fifteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Kreator x Rekarla, by Caruso). Owned by Won-Jae Hong and the rider.

Creator has had a varied and interesting career so far: he was piloted by Korean rider Won-Jae Hong at the 2018 Asian Games, after which Won-Jae passed the reins to Joris, with whom he shares ownership of the gelding.

Fifteen might seem quite old for a five-star debutant, but it’s not wholly out of the realm of possibility – in fact, we saw a couple of ‘geriatric’ debutants at Bicton last season, and it’s crucial to remember that the disrupted seasons through the pandemic mean that many of these horses have comparatively low mileage.

As Belgium’s sole entrants this year, four-time Olympian (and full-time railway stationmaster) Joris and Creator won’t be here to fight for the win – the gelding’s first-phase performances can be erratic, and his scores at four-star flit between the very low 30s and the low 40s, so it’s probably too much to expect an outlier performance at five-star that’ll put them in the hunt, though stranger things have happened. They tend to be a little quicker at long-formats than short-formats, probably because they settle into a functional rhythm, and Creator has only had one international cross-country jumping penalty in his life, way back in 2016, so we’ll be looking for them to log a steady, sensible clear. Sunday will be tricky: showjumping has historically been the horse’s weak phase, and he’s knocked as many as five rails at four-star previously. Again, though, he generally tends to jump better on the final day of a three-day than when he’s running at short format events, which would suggest he needs to settle into a place, and his work, before he can take a deep breath and perform at his best. Badminton could, in its own funny way, tempt him to deliver a career-peaking week of work.

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Cyrielle Lefevre and Armanjo Serosah. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

82: Cyrielle Lefevre and Armanjo Serosah (FRA)

Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Romando de l’Abbaye x Jolyjo Serosah, by Sassanian). Owned by Charline Guerin.

Cyrielle and her elegant gelding come forward as a late entry from the waitlist, and will make their second five-star appearance this week. Their first came at Pau last year, finishing 20th after delivering a decisive clear inside the optimum time. That’s pretty par for the course for them: other than a couple of whoopsies at the start of the horse’s international career, and an 11 for an activated safety device at Waregem in 2019, they’ve got an impeccable and speedy record and are a fun, gutsy pair to watch across the country. Their first-phase performances do tend to put them on the back foot, though — they can dip down to the low 30s, but they can also deliver in the upper 30s, and in a field like this, that’s going to make a huge difference to the ground a rider can make up over the weekend. On Sunday, too, we’ll generally see them take a couple of rails, and at Pau, which has a particularly tough course, they had four.

Though Cyrielle trained to be a teacher, she now rides professionally from her base in the Ardennes. Her education — which includes an undergraduate degree in Biology, a Masters in Education, and an agricultural diploma — was part of a deal with her parents, who wanted to ensure she had a sufficient professional safety net in case riding didn’t work out. But Cyrielle, who competed on pony teams in all three disciplines, hasn’t looked back since taking her professional license. A placing here is unlikely, but tune in for a super display of partnership and pizzazz over Saturday’s course as they chase down another respectable finish.

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Becky Heappey and DHI Babette K. Photo by Peter Nixon/Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

84: Becky Heappey and DHI Babette K (GBR)

Sixteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Marlon x Fleur, by Nimmerdor). Owned by Neil Record.

Formerly ridden by Laura Ritchie-Bland, Babette joined Becky’s string in 2017, and has gone from strength to strength since. In 2019, we saw her come into her own – her dressage scores dropped to the low thirties, and she began reliably producing some reasonably speedy clear rounds. She was at her very best – as was Becky – in her five-star debut at Luhmühlen in June of that year – there, she finished ninth after adding just 1.6 time penalties and a single rail to her 35.3 dressage. She then tackled her first Burghley after a frustrating 20 in her prep run at Hartpury CCI4*-S, which turned out to be just the wake-up call she needed, and the pair sailed to a very respectable 13th place finish in that very tough iteration of the event. She then sat out 2020 and most of 2021, but for a steady run at Hartpury in August, and returned this spring for a similarly steady cruise around Burnham Market CCI4*-S.

Their very good run in the Advanced at Weston Park last month feels more telling: they finished tenth there after adding more steady time penalties to their 30.2 dressage score. Weston is famously a very good, old-fashioned Badminton prep run, with similar terrain, questions, and ground, and plenty of challenges suitable for the level. While Babette isn’t a naturally quick horse and hasn’t run to speed in a couple of seasons, this looks like a strategic manoeuvre from Becky, who will likely pick up the pace here. Their strength is in their ability to go the distance and keep on keeping on, and if we see a particularly influential cross-country day, they’ll look to climb the leaderboard despite time penalties, as they did at Burghley. They should start sub-35, which will allow them to make some not insignificant headway if they deliver the goods.

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

85: Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy (GBR)

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by the rider.

It hasn’t been an ideal run-up to Badminton for Nicky and her petite gelding, who haven’t actually had a clear cross-country round in an FEI outing since 2019. They retired on course after picking up 60 penalties in their prep run at Thoresby CCI4*-S in April, and prior to that, had a frustrating end to 2021 with three consecutive eliminations for unlucky reasons: one for a rider fall in the showjumping at Hartpury, a technical elimination at Barbury for jumping through the flags of a three-star fence, and one at Bicton CCI4*-L in June, where he pulled up lame after cutting himself.

On national runs, though, they’ve had a bit better prep, finishing seventh in the Advanced at Weston Park and jumping clear around the AI at Cirencester and the OI at Tweseldown. They also had two OI clears and an Advanced clear last season, though some further issues as well at other national runs.

As a pair, they’ve completed Burghley in 2019, and jumped clear around Badminton earlier that year for a top twenty finish. They also finished in the top 20 at Pau on their debut in 2018. They should deliver a mid-30s score, and the rest of the weekend will be about rebuilding their foundations and achieving a steady completion with some educational long routes as needed to get back into their groove.

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Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

86: Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy (NZL)

Nineteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Sky Lassie, by Sky Boy). Owned by Verenna Allen and the rider.

The two eldest horses in the field are both campaigned by members of the Price family — and both are previous five-star winners. 2018 Burghley victor Ozzie returns for what could be his final hurrah at this level after a top-ten finish at Bicton five-star last year. He’d had an interesting year: a planned slow run in the CCI4*-S at Millstreet in Ireland seemed to hint at exciting things to come a couple of weeks later, when the Prices made the tough trip to Luhmühlen CCI5*. But luck just wasn’t on the family’s side that week, and none of their three five-star winning entrants made it to the finish line. Ozzie, for his part, came unstuck at the influential Meßmer Water, where horses had to jump a wide table and then execute a quick turn into a skinny brush in the water. The horse, like many others, seemed just not to see it on the first approach, and on the second, he made it quite clear that he still wasn’t quite reading it, so Tim wisely put his hand up and called it quits.

This will be an extraordinary eighteenth CCI5* for the gelding, and he’s finished in the top ten eight times at the level. Although Ozzie was only ever meant to be a sales horse – his tempestuous nature meant that Tim didn’t fancy hanging on to him, though he “couldn’t even pass him on to the Brazilians” – he stuck around, eventually gave up trying to buck everyone off, and then, you know, won Burghley. He was tenth at Badminton in 2019, too, and has been second, fourth, and fifth at Burghley previously, proving that even the quirkiest of horses can be incredibly consistent when dealt with in a way that takes all their, um, charms into account. While he won’t rival Ballaghmor Class or London 52 in the first phase – expect a score between 25 and 28 – he’ll certainly do so across the country. He very nearly won Burghley by finishing on his dressage score – unfortunately, he finished a single second over the optimum time, though that was still enough to take the top spot. He’s a tricky showjumper, and can have two or three down with his slightly unconventional jumping style, but he’s already proven he can make it happen when he needs to. Like Classic Moet, he’s the patron saint of unlikely champions, and we love him for it.

This course, with its huge variety and tests of adjustability and versatility, should suit Ozzie down to the ground. There’s little he hasn’t seen and conquered: he’s won Burghley, placed at Badminton, jumped around Luhmühlen, Pau, Kentucky, and an Olympic Games, and you’d be hard-pressed to throw a question his way that he doesn’t know how to answer. His last two five-stars may not have gone quite to plan — that Bicton placing came in spite of picking up eleven penalties for activating a safety device — but he’s still one of the most experienced and competitive entrants in this year’s field, and will be looking for another placing to add to his tally.

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87: Arthur Chabert and Goldsmiths Imber (FRA)

Fourteen-year-old British-Bred Sport Horse mare (Bandmaster x Badgers Black Dove, by Mars). Owned by the Cupcake Syndicate and the rider.

UK-based Frenchman Arthur, who’s one half of a jolly good sporting power couple with wife Kirsty, also entered, has been competing Goldsmiths Imber exclusively since 2016. That’s [checks notes] longer and more faithful than any relationship I’ve ever had. Impressive stuff! They made their five-star debut together at Burghley in 2019, which was a seriously bold choice that paid off beautifully: they delivered a clear, though not fast, round over an achingly tough course to finish in the top twenty. Now, they’re back after a long pandemic wait to make their second start at the level, and they do so with consistency as their watchword. As the 2022 season begins, they’re sitting pretty on ten consecutive FEI clears across the country. We fully expect them to add to that here, and if the course proves particularly tough, we could see them fight for another top twenty – though the field is bigger and more competitive here, and their mid-to-high 30s dressage and guaranteed rail or two will be the biggest hurdles they face along the way. In any case, they’ll be a joy to follow purely to enjoy watching a partnership that knows one another inside and out.

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Richard Jones and Alfies Clover. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

88: Richard Jones and Alfies Clover (GBR)

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tajraasi XX x Aoifes Clover, by Clover Hill). Owned by Sandra Martin, Dinah Jones, and the rider. 

Everyone loves a comeback kid, and good-humoured Jones has, perhaps, one of the more unusual comeback stories in the field. In 2017, he and Alfies Clover were on track to achieve the best result of Jones’ career in the CCI4*-L 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 following year they returned, added just 2.8 time penalties to their 34.2 dressage, and finished seventh. It’s all been a bit of a rollercoaster since then: they retired on course at Badminton in 2019 and then finished fourth at Bramham CCI4*-L, which is a big, tough, hilly track, and then had a 20 at Burgham and finished the year with a Burghley retirement. Then they sat out the entirety of the 2020 season. With just Burgham’s CCI4*-S under their belt to get them back into the swing of things last year, though, they jumped clear around the CCI5* at Bicton, adding 8.8 time penalties across the country and 6.2 total penalties in showjumping to their first-phase score of 33, giving them a very good sixth place finish.

When it’s good with this pair, it’s very good, and when it doesn’t quite come together, Richard puts his hand up and calls it a day – but Bicton certainly knocked some rust off and they looked committed and straight the whole way around. Recreating that will stand them in good stead over Eric’s course, and although they’ll have further to climb with their low-30s dressage score in this field, they could well put in another bid for a top fifteen. They’re fast enough when it’s going well that it’s wholly possible.

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Alex Bragg and King of the Mill. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

90: Alex Bragg and King of the Mill (GBR)

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Stormhill Miller x Ballycanew Queen). Owned by Michael and Naomi Roe.

It wouldn’t be like Alex Bragg to ride a tall and handsome bay (oh, but when will they invent a sarcasm font?) — but after he announced the retirement of Zagreb, his extraordinarily consistent five-star competitor, it’s time for young King of the Mill to step up and fill his overlarge shoes. At 17.2hh, he’s certainly not going to struggle to fill his stride patterns, anyway, and as he comes forward for his third run at five-star, we’re expecting exciting things from the gelding.

‘Miller’ made the step up at Pau in 2020, and though he picked up an educational 20 penalties there, that’s not necessarily a bad sign: he did the same when stepping up to four-star at Tattersalls (may it rest in peace) in 2019, and after that, he was seldom out of the placings at the level. Since then, he’s looked on great form, jumping a conservative clear around Barbury CCI4*-S and much swifter ones around Burgham and the tough track at Hartpury, where he finished fourth, before returning to Pau for a top twenty finish. This time around, he produced a clear cross-country round inside the time, although Alex admits to Horse and Hound that the gelding is best-suited to galloping tracks like Burghley. That should make some ears prick: generally, horses who suit Burghley tracks are the other end of the spectrum to horses who suit tight, twisty Pau tracks, and so if a bold and galloping horse can lay down a great round at Pau, a somewhere-in-the-middle course like Badminton should play to a lot more of his strengths.

Their low-30s mark will put them in contention, though not at the upper echelons after the first phase — he’ll need to nail the other two phases in order to climb. Their greatest hurdle in their efforts? The final phase. They’ve taken three rails in each of their previous five-stars.

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Australia’s Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

91: Sammi Birch and Finduss PFB (AUS)

Twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Saffier x Belle Miranda, by Sarantos). Owned by Parkfield Breeding and the rider. 

Sammi, who began her career riding ex-racehorses and relocated to England back in 2005, is one of Australia’s biggest stars, and perhaps best known in conjunction with top horse Hunter Valley II, with whom she was fourth at Pau in 2017. She’s also tough as nails, though it’s rare to see her without a warm smile on her face: in 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and went through chemotherapy and a major surgery to remove the cancerous cells while still riding and competing at the top level. She balanced that with raising her young son and dealing with the heartbreak of missing the WEG that year due to a horse injury.

Talented Finduss PFB has been produced by a few leading ladies of the sport — first Holly Woodhead, who used to be Parkfield Breeding’s rider in residence and took him to the Seven Year Old World Championships and his first forays at four-star, and then, very briefly, by Laura Collett. He moved to British-based Australian Sammi’s string in early 2019 and has gone from strength to strength since, with classy clears and top ten finishes in four-star classes at Barroca d’Alva, as well as clear rounds at Burgham CCI4*-S and Bicton’s two major fixtures last season.

‘Loopy Louis’, as he’s fondly known at home, made his five-star debut at Britain’s ‘pop-up’ five-star at Bicton last autumn, where he redeemed himself after a rather interpretive dressage test to ultimately finish in eleventh place. Experienced Sammi will no doubt have been hard at work over the winter to tame the dragon in the first phase, as Bicton’s small field and tough terrain allowed for more of a move-up from a first-phase score of 39 than Badminton is likely to. His first run of the year, in the ultra-hot OI at Oasby, saw him score a 38.4, though, so we’ll be looking at Louis to be one of the dark horses that fights for the coveted Glentrool Trophy, which is awarded to the biggest climber of the week at Badminton.

Louis wouldn’t be the fastest of our field this year, but he is a stayer – and if our predictions prove correct and we’re gifted with a vintage Badminton course to reward us for our long wait, his resilience and keenness should see him go the distance, which will boost him up the standings. The final phase has historically yielded a rail, or sometimes two, for the gelding, but he didn’t have a single pole down in 2021 at the national or international levels, so we’re expecting him to make the best of Sunday and earn himself a respectable finish.

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92: Ugo Provasi and Shadd’OCC (FRA) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Sixteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Espoir d’Oc SF x Shippie SF, by Arlequin). Owned by Sophie Bonduelle and the rider.

Ugo was delighted to get a late call-up from the waitlist just last week, replacing Piggy March and Brookfield Inocent on this year’s line-up. He’ll be debuting his gelding at the level, though it’s not his first time as a rider — he competed at Pau in 2012 with former top horse Kiproco des Nauves, finishing in the top twenty.

Ugo, who is based at the French National Stud in Fontainebleau, has represented France on a couple of occasions, including at the Nations Cup leg in Haras du Pin last year, where the French team was victorious. His mount there was his Badminton ride Shad’OCC, who was produced to CCI3*-S by fellow Frenchman and amateur hunter rider Yves Ouriet. Though Shad’OCC tops out at just a petite 15.3hh, he’s a formidable entrant for the French side: in 23 FEI starts, he’s notched up 11 top ten placings, and has just one cross-country jumping penalty on his record. That penalty, an elimination back in 2013 for a fall on the flat, doesn’t really count in our eyes. He’s also incredibly speedy across the country, averaging 2.4 time penalties at long formats. That’s helped him earn some tidy results, including 15th at Blenheim CCI4*-L in 2016, tenth place at Ligniéres CCI4*-L in 2020, and eighth at Pratoni CCI4*-S in 2019.

Their dressage can be a bit of a mixed bag, though, and we could see them put anything from a 31 to a 39 on the board. Whatever they deliver in the first phase, you can certainly expect them to climb, and Eric’s courses actually tend to really suit the French way of riding across the country, which is typically forward and committed to making up the distances. Eric famously doesn’t measure for exact stride patterns, preferring to see riders adjust for the ground and their horse’s initial effort, and that lets these gutsy French jockeys get in the backseat and ‘allez! Allez!’ their way through the lines. Shad’OCC’s showjumping performances are also on the up and up, and he could quite easily go clear on Sunday, giving these guys a massive leap and a potential shot at the Glentrool Trophy for the biggest climb of the week.

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Jean Lou Bigot and Utrillo du Halage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

94: Jean Lou Bigot and Utrillo du Halage (FRA)

Fourteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Kara du Halage x Colline du Halage). Owned by Florence Assar.

Our 1993 European Champion is among the most experienced riders in this field, with eight European championships, two World Cup finals, two WEGs, and an Olympic appearance under his belt – and Utrillo has been his partner for two of those team appearances, jumping clear around Avenches last year and Luhmühlen’s Euros in 2019.

This is a particularly interesting horse because it’s very, well, French – he’s gung-ho and bold as brass across the country, and among the fastest horse in this field. In fact, he hasn’t had an international time fault since 2019 – and don’t for a moment think that’s because he hasn’t run much in the pandemic. He’s now on six consecutive FEI runs sans time penalties. You’ll have to scan all the way back to 2018 to find his most recent cross-country jumping penalty, and generally speaking, his showjumping is spot-on as well, though his final phase at Avenches saw him pull an enormously uncharacteristic three rails. But – and it’s a big but – like many of the very good French horses, he’s always an extravagant climber, because the first phase just isn’t consistent. We know that he’s absolutely capable of producing a real belter of a test, because he’s gone sub-30 in the dressage multiple times at the level, including when the pressure was on at the Europeans. But in the same season, he delivered a 38.7 in the CCI4*-L at Saumur, and at Luhmühlen’s championships in 2019 he dipped into the 40s.

This is rather indicative of Utrillo’s nature: he’s an incredibly sensitive, hot horse, and Jean Lou confesses that from the age of five, when he did well at the young horse finals, until he was ten, it was one challenge after another to get the gelding to come good, particularly on the flat. But he’s a patient, experienced horseman, and he’s slowly unpacked the horse’s complicated nature to help him become a fierce competitor. His style and technique aren’t traditional, but he’s got the heart of a lion, and it’ll be a vintage display that he gives us around this course. If he rises to the occasion in the first phase, this could well be a dark horse contender for a top ten spot.

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Emily Hamel and Corvett. Photo by Shelby Allen.

95: Emily Hamel and Corvett (USA)

Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Corrido x Tina XII, by Clearway). Owned by Black Flag Option, LLC.

Emily and her great grey Corvett were one of a slew of five-star debutants at Kentucky last spring, and they added to their growing fan club by jumping two impressive clear rounds and finishing 21st. If you don’t think you’ve spotted Corvett out on course before, cast your mind back: do you remember seeing a sparkling white, eager-eared bolt of lightning clearing each fence with about two feet of extra air? That’s Corvett, whose unique, gravity-defying approach to cross-country jumping makes him almost as much fun to watch as he is to ride.

Resale fail ‘Barry’ and former Wisconsin-based 4H grad Emily joined forces at Phillip Dutton’s True Prospect Farm, where they’ve both learned the ins and outs of their trade in tandem. Now, they come forward to try to crack the top twenty – or better! – after a successful trip to the American Eventing Championships, where they finished fourteenth in the $60,000 Adequan Advanced Final.

While Emily and Corvett won’t put the pressure on in the first phase with their mid-to-high 30s score, they shine in the jumping phases and embrace the spirit of the climb (thank you, Miley Cyrus). While they have the odd blip on their FEI record, their runs at Kentucky and Maryland proved that they can gobble up tough tracks in tricky conditions, and they should be very capable of another sterling performance this week. They hit a major milestone in cracking the top 15 at Maryland, where they finished fourteenth in great company, and while that’ll be a tough result to recreate here, this track will offer big-jumping Barry lots of fun challenges. They won’t be among the fastest finishers, and have picked up 8 and 10 time penalties, respectively, in their two five-stars so far, but they’ve also jumped clear on the final day in both, so there’s lots of ground for them to make up on the leaderboard over the course of the weekend – and we can guarantee that they’ll pick up plenty of new fans in the process with their gumption and pizzazz.

Emily has made this dream come true with a bit of creativity and a lot of help from her friends, family, and supporters, who’ve helped her put on a fundraising auction full of some pretty brilliant lots. The fact that she had to have knee surgery on April 9th after a misstep lead to a tear on her lateral meniscus doesn’t appear to be dampening her spirits at all — and coming off the Badminton waitlist shortly after will have been a great motivator for her.

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Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

97: Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan x Lucky Crest, by Lucky Gift). Owned by Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie, and Sarah Webb.

Originally piloted by Georgie Campbell to two-star, this smart grey joined Tom’s stable in early 2018 and has been quietly impressing since. In their 14 FEI starts together, they’ve finished in the top eleven ten times, including a second place finish in the 2018 Seven-Year-Old World Championships, an eleventh-place finish in the 2020 eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S, which is ordinarily held at Blenheim, and eighth in the very tough CCI4*-L at Bicton last June.

‘Walshy’ is naturally swift and very reliable, too, with just one mistake across the country in his international career. His first-phase performances tend to fluctuate, though – he proved at three-star that he can go sub-30, but it hasn’t happened for him yet at four-star. We’ll likely see a mid-to-high 30s effort to start his week off, but he’s the kind of horse that’s built to climb. Every season his showjumping gets better and better, too, so we could see him make one big final leap up the leaderboard on Sunday to give Tom another great result at five-star. Apropos of nothing, the 28-year-old is a dab hand at juggling, which will come in handy if we ever get our wish and see the first horse inspection swapped for a talent competition.

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Selina Milnes and Iron. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

98: Selina Milnes and Iron IV (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Aquilino x Ushuaia, by Donnerschlag). Owned by William Rucker. 

Over the last few seasons, Selina and Iron have, quietly and without fanfare, become serious British contenders at the upper levels, and so the gelding’s five-star debut at Pau last year came with high expectations indeed. Their super results at four-star last season include tenth at Blair CCI4*-S, fourth in the British Open Championships, tenth at Barbury CCI4*-S, and second — to William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire — at Houghton Hall CCIO4*-S this spring. They’ve also previously finished fourth in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L in 2018 and third in Bramham’s CCI4*-L — arguably the toughest in the sport — in 2019. And at Pau? They were eighth, adding just 4.4 time penalties across the country and 0.8 in showjumping to their first-phase score of 30.1. They’ve proven themselves over and over again, and are more than ready to make this Badminton debut a competitive one.

Incredibly, that was Selena’s own return to the top level for the first time since 2012, when she contested Luhmühlen with the excellent Bodidily, with whom she finished 13th at Burghley the year prior. We’ll be looking to this pair to score between 29 and 31, and on Saturday, they should deliver a quick clear — they added just 1.2 time penalties at Bramham in 2019, which is a galloping, big course with bold terrain, very different from the tight, twisty Pau course over which he was fractionally slower. In any case, he tends to showjump best on the final day, so should deliver a clear — and that will pay dividends this week. There’s a big dream being chased here, and nobody in the inner circles of the sport would be surprised to see them finish in the top ten.

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Lauren Innes and Global Fision M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

99: Lauren Innes and Global Fision M (NZL) – DEBUTANT PAIR

Twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Flipper d’Elle*HN x Kantussa, by Cantus). Owned by the rider.

Seeing Lauren Innes on the Kiwi entrant list might be a bit of an unexpected item in bagging area – the British-based rider only swapped nationalities a number of weeks ago, making use of her claim to Kiwi-hood through her father. It’s a savvy move, particularly as the British side is so overpopulated with top-level talent at the moment, and a swap to the relatively compact Kiwi side will allow her access to more support and a very real chance at team selection, if this week goes well. But this savviness won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Lauren, a true amateur rider who works full-time as an accountant and does some seriously impressive balancing to fit in producing ‘Flipper’: “[Working from home during] COVID has certainly helped, because I can get off him at like, one minute to nine and be at my desk by nine,” she laughs. “I go to Oakingham Stud to use their hill gallops to get him fit for the longs, and that’s about fifty minutes from home, so I’ll get up at quarter past five and leave home just before six. Then after the drive, I’ll be on him just before seven, gallop him, wash him down, and be back by nine. Then he goes out in the field, and I work all day.”

This is Lauren’s only upper-level horse, and they’ve climbed through the levels together ever since she bought him as a five-year-old from Ireland’s Brian Morrison, co-founder of Global Event Horses. Lauren’s friendship with Brian began when she was studying Biological Sciences at Oxford – and while she hadn’t been a part of Britain’s bustling Young Rider circuit and teams, she was able to pursue her passion for competing through student riding, helmed by the World University Equestrian Federation. The set-up of the federation means that no competitor is required to have their own horse; instead, students go head to head in heats, each riding the same horse to determine who has exhibited the best horsemanship. Success at student riding competitions can lead to opportunities such as the Student Riding Nations Cups, which give riders from universities around the world the chance to compete together. The system has produced an impressive array of riders on the cusp of the big leagues, and Lauren has since ridden for Britain at the CCI3*-S European Cup and enjoyed a fruitful run at four-star, with super results including that third-place finish at Blair and an eleventh place finish in the very tough CCI4*-L at Bicton in June. But Flipper certainly isn’t the easiest ride, and according to Lauren’s trainer, Mark Corbett, it’s because he’s not in a professional string that he’s able to thrive.

“He can get really hot, and when he gets hot, he kind of loses it. He’s by Flipper d’Elle and he’s very French, in his brain,” Lauren told EN during Blair Castle’s CCI4*-L last year, in which they finished third. “He’s the most confident horse to jump thing; nothing is too big, and he has the utmost belief in his ability. I don’t think he’s ever lost his confidence. But that confidence gets him a bit hot in the dressage sometimes, so he’s had to work a lot on it by going out and doing British Dressage.”

Because of Flipper’s quirks, much will depend on how he takes to the atmosphere at Badminton. He’s absolutely capable of going sub-30, and Lauren has a finely-honed routine for helping him settle at three-days, which suits him much better than coming out at short-formats, where there’s less time to get used to his new environs, but if he bubbles over, he can hit the mid-30s and beyond. On cross-country, though, all trickiness is cast aside, and he’s straight, focussed, incredibly genuine, and though not the fastest horse in the field, still fairly swift. He’s also at his best when showjumping on the final day, and should go clear. If he can settle for the first phase, they could be very competitive and set themselves up for a shot at selection for Pratoni this year.

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Harry Meade and Away Cruising. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

101: Harry Meade and Away Cruising (GBR)

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Cruise On x Parklands Princess, by Able Albert). Owned by Charlotte Opperman.

Away Cruising, or ‘Spot’, sat out the 2020 and 2021 seasons (and a fair bit of 2019, too), and so all eyes turned instead to the very good Superstition, who contested both US five-stars last year. But the great grey is back, and he’s ready to try to replicate the sixth place finish he earned at Burghley in 2018. That’s his best result from his five five-star starts so far, and while he’s a very capable competitor, he might find himself up against it to claim a placing in a field of this extraordinary calibre. He’s often a sub-30 horse, and the 35.1 he picked up here in 2019 was actually the result of a bad reaction to an injection. We’ll be more likely to see him deliver something along the lines of the 28.9 he got at Thoresby CCI4*-S last month, though hopefully with rather fewer time penalties – that was a slow prep run for the gelding, and he collected 24.8 time, but he’s nearly caught the time at Burghley before, so he certainly can be quick when he’s on his A-game. A rail on Sunday is par for the course, but if this week is to be used as a reintroduction to top-level competition for the sparky grey, we could see big things to come later in the season.

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Padraig McCarthy and HHS Noble Call. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

103: Padraig McCarthy and HHS Noble Call (IRE)

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Fortunas x Noblina, by Cavalier Royale). Owned by Pearl Chaffe and the rider. 

It’s a joy to see Padraig back here with two entries, because the last time we saw him at Badminton was also the last time we got to see the exceptional Mr Chunky, who is now happily semi-retired in the West Country, in competition. His second entry this week is the dazzling grey HHS Noble Call, who debuted at five-star at last year’s pop-up event at Bicton, which would be a local fixture for the Devon-based rider. They finished eighth there, delivering an excellent performance as the first clear round over the enormously tough terrain. Their mid-to-high 30s dressage (which has peaked in the mid-40s at four-star, and went to 47 in the Advanced at Thoresby this month) and tendency to knock a few rails will make a repeat placing tricky in a field of this strength, though. ‘Ben’ can be an anxious horse, which tends to impact his performance in the ring, though Padraig has been working hard to help him relax over the winter, as he explains to Horse&Hound.

There’s a lot to like about the tough, genuine gelding, who began his eventing career in 2018 after showjumping to 1.30m for his breeder, the Irish Olympic jumper Marion Hughes. Though the dressage was disappointing at Thoresby, they did deliver a clear round in the showjumping there, plus a characteristic efficient clear across the country. They aren’t likely to make a bid for a top placing at Badminton, but it’ll be a useful developmental exercise for the gelding.

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Nicola Wilson and Erano M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

104: Nicola Wilson and Erano M (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Thirteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Canturano x Erano M, by Flemmingh). Owned by Lady Milnes Coates and Rosemary Search.

Five-star first-timer Erano M is very low milage for his age: this will be just his twelfth FEI run, and we haven’t actually seen him run in an international since August, when he finished fifth in the mountainous CCI4*-L at Blair Castle in Scotland. His three prep runs at national level have been very good indeed, though – he finished fourth and seventh in Open Intermediates at Oasby and Lincoln, and tenth in the star-studded Advanced at Thoresby.

That Blair result is rather the highlight of Arnie’s career so far. He led the first-phase after delivering the only sub-30 score of the class, and though his 14.4 time penalties cost him victory in the end, he proved his capability over one of the sports trickiest bits of terrain. Badminton, which is much flatter, should afford him an opportunity to open up a bit more, though he’s still in the early stages of his upper-level career and wouldn’t be a naturally fast horse, so this will likely be a foundational year for a quicker, more competitive run next year.

Arnie’s got a good set of changes and is very capable of sitting around or just under the 30 mark after dressage here. He should deliver good, steady performances throughout the weekend, and though he might not have his name in lights at the very end, he’ll certainly earmark himself as one to watch.

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William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

105: William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire (GBR)

Thirteen-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Graf Top x Heraldiks Angara, by Heraldik). Owned by Jennifer Dowling and the rider.

Fresh off of a second-place finish at Boekelo with Grafennacht, which evidently reminded William of how sweet a three-day victory tastes, the man with the most five-star wins of any rider ever went to Pau last year with one goal in mind: to win that thang. It didn’t quite work out that way: an uncharacteristic 20 penalties across the country knocked them out of contention, and they finished just outside the top twenty. Their issues came — as they did for several horses and riders — at a step down to a skinny brush late on the course, a question they’ll face here, too, though slightly earlier on this time.

Little Fire, or Aidan, is a horse who practically passages in the warm-up ring and who finished a very impressive ninth at Badminton back in 2019. That came after a slightly less stellar five-star debut at Pau the previous year, at which he picked up a 20 and then was eliminated for an unlucky rider fall. You win (or finish in the top ten) or you learn, right? Hopefully the educational Pau to competitive Badminton pipeline is well solidified, particularly as they’ve not had an ideal lead-up: William had to complete a mandatory 21-day riding ban after a fall at Cirencester knocked him out, and Harry Meade piloted his horses for him during that time period. They’ve only been back in action together as of Burnham Market in mid-April.

Lanky Will has totted up a fair few successes in his time – 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). Look for both of them to make a jolly good effort of the whole endeavour; this one should start the week in a strong position – his best effort at the level is 24.5, but he’s dipped as low as 23.4 at four-star. He should be pretty quick across the country, too, and three steady clear prep runs should have him listening and ready to get to work. He added no time penalties when he won Houghton CCIO4*-S last year, but generally does add a fistful, which shouldn’t stop him from remaining in a competitive spot come Sunday. He jumps at his best on the final day of a three-day and though the prep is against them, another top ten finish isn’t out of the question.

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Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

106: Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo (GBR) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Grafenstolz x Cornish Queen, by Rock King). Owned by Michele Saul.

Dear Walter is the youngest horse in this year’s field, but don’t discount him for that: he’s something of a child prodigy and is World Champion Ros’s frontrunner for the Paris Olympics in two years. This will be just his fourteenth FEI run, and in his thirteen so far, he’s never finished outside the top fifteen. He’s also gone sub-30 ten times, finished on his dressage score four times, come home inside the time six times, and knocked just three rails ever. He’s never had an international cross-country jumping penalty, and he’s got two CCI4*-S victories under his belt in the last year: one at Aston-le-Walls, which hosted a Chatsworth replacement last spring, and then at Blair Castle CCI4*-S in Scotland in August. His second-place finish in the tough Bramham replacement CCI4*-L at Bicton in June is particularly notable, as that terrain-heavy track was tough enough to pass for a five-star and had well over 100 entries, too. He also finished second in Blenheim’s considerably more straightforward CCI4*-L at the end of the season. He was also named as direct reserve for Ros’s mount, Allstar B, at last year’s European Championships.

This year has started off well, if less competitively, for young Walter: he finished 15th at Thoresby CCI4*-S in a seriously hot field, adding just 3.2 time penalties to his 29.4 dressage. That’s a higher score than we’re used to seeing from the gelding, who posted a 21.8 at Aston and a 25.2 at Blair. He certainly has the potential to find himself in the uppermost handful after dressage, but with a field of this calibre, we’re expecting the judges not to give anything away, so a high-20s score feels likely in his five-star debut. Once he’s out on cross-country, he’ll be in his element: “He’s an amazing horse — he’s just fun, and he has the ability to gallop really fast, balance very quickly, and gallop downhill like he’s on flat ground. And he’s careful,” Ros told us when he won Blair last year.

Ros and her team will just be hoping that Walter likes his new digs in Badminton’s historic stable yard – he can be a bit tempestuous to manage on the ground at shows, and has been known to have a tantrum if he’s not keen on his view. Once Ros is on board, though, she always finds he focuses and behaves brilliantly. That’s showbiz, baby?

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Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

109: Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class (GBR)

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II – Kilderry Place, breeding unknown), owned by Karyn Schuter, Angela Hislop, and Val Ryan.

It’s almost impossible to overlook this pair, who might well be the most consistent five-star competitors in the world: they’ve completed six so far, winning two of them and never coming lower than fifth place. One of those wins was Burghley on the horse’s debut as a ten-year-old; the other was Kentucky last spring. ‘Thomas’ also gave Oliver his long-awaited Olympic call-up, where they won team gold and finished fifth individually.

It all bodes rather well for the tough-as-nails Yorkshireman and the rangy Irish gelding, who shares a sire with similarly quirky superstars Ringwood Sky Boy, the Duke of Cavan, and Cooley Rorkes Drift. A couple of outlier scores earlier in the horse’s career drive up his first-phase average, but you can realistically expect a 25 or lower – he’s scored a 20.8 and 21.1 at Badminton before, and will fight hard for the dressage lead. He’s not been on quite as fiery of form as usual this spring, and posted a 28.9 at Thoresby, but a 25.2 at Burnham Market saw him head back down towards the business end of the marks, and all three of his national-level runs have seen them post sub-20 scores.

He’s fast and as accurate as they come across the country, but it’s showjumping that can be the heartbreaker for this pair: they’ve only ever jumped clear on the final day in three long-format events, though one of those was a very convincing round at Kentucky when winning it last spring. A rail at Tokyo cost them individual gold, and they missed out on the win here in 2019 because they added a stride — and lost a couple of valuable seconds — in a line and handed the win to Piggy by less than the value of a single second. This spring, the showjumping has looked particularly tricky: they pulled three rails at Burnham Market CCI4*-S and had one down in an OI, too. But Oliver is very evidently hungry for this win: he had five horses entered here and didn’t cross-enter any at Kentucky, which suggests he wants to lift the Badminton trophy for the first time since 2009.

“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.”

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Pippa Funnell’s Burghley winner MGH Grafton Street. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

111: Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street (GBR)

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (OBOS Quality 004 x unknown dam). Owned by Jonathan and Jane Clarke.

MGH Grafton Street is a funny thing, isn’t he? He’s so deliciously talented that he’s so often led the dressage – and he’s as consistent as they come at the mid-20s mark – but on cross-country, he’s just, well, naughty. Or that’s how Pippa explains his spate of infuriating twenties, which have lost him events like Tattersalls CCI4*-S in 2019. Fortunately, he’s owned by some of her longest-standing owners, so they know as well as we do that when Pippa believes in a horse, it’s usually with good reason – and the proof was in the pudding in the latter half of 2019, when he won Burghley.

That’s a little bit what you get with ‘Squirrel’: a win or a real disappointment, without much in between. His spring prep hasn’t quite gone to plan, and he and Pippa were eliminated after a 20 and a rider fall in the CCI4*-S at Burnham Market, and he hasn’t really run much over the course of the pandemic, because all of Pippa’s horses sat 2020 out. For a betting man, he’s the ultimate gamble – he’s got all the talent in the world, but whether he uses his powers for good or evil will depend on a number of factors, such as whether Mercury is in retrograde and whether he woke up on the right side of the shavings bank that day. Could he win Badminton? Totally! Could he see something shiny next to fence three and deposit Pippa into the laps of some startled picnickers? Absolutely! We’ll hope for the former, as we always do, but Burnham Market has us on our guard, and Squirrel, like a badly behaved boyfriend, will need to re-earn our trust now before we’ll put him up as a potential pick.

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David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

113: David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed (GBR)

Eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Carambole x Sjaloma, by Harcos). Owned by Gillian Jonas.

Talk about a literal dark horse: Galileo Nieuwmoed might be one of the youngest horses in the field, but he’s been quietly amassing some very, very promising results over the last couple of seasons. Those include a top-twenty finish at Burgham CCI4*-S, fourth place at the same level at Renswoude in the Netherlands, thirteenth in the CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds at Blenheim in 2019, and second in his debut at four-star at Haras du Pin that year. He then made his CCI5* debut at Bicton in September, but that didn’t go quite as well, and he picked up his first ever FEI cross-country jumping penalty — first for activating a frangible pin, and then for a fall. They were the pathfinder pair there, and so there’s always room to wonder if things might have been different had David had the benefit of feedback about the course — but in any case, the experience obviously didn’t do either any harm, because they rerouted to Pau and romped home clear and inside the time for eventual 15th place.

If we’re willing to regard Bicton as an educational experience, he’s certainly one to watch closely — we’ll be expecting a low-30s dressage, though he’s a consistent upper-20s horse at four-star and did actually deliver a 29.7 at Pau. He’s one of the fastest in the field, though also one of the least experienced, so how quickly he goes will depend largely on how David opts to run him — whether it’s better for him in the long run to learn about direct routes and speed, or to go steadier around the track. On Sunday, he could well jump clear, and his record is generally very good, but he’s had rails down in his last two international runs. Keep an eye on this one, because both horse and rider are likely to surprise you. Quiet, hard-working, kind David sometimes goes under the radar, but he’s got all the tools he needs to climb through the week and make a brilliant impression.

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Tom McEwen and CHF Cooliser. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

115: Tom McEwen and CHF Cooliser (GBR)

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Womanizer x Super Spring, by Ramiro B). Owned by Vicky Bates and David Myers. 

This cool mare was set to make her five-star debut at Luhmühlen last year, but after that pesky German travel ban on the Brits threw a spanner in the works, she was rerouted from the land of schnitzel to the land of fine, flaky pastries. That delay allowed her to get a few more sensible runs in, including one at Blair Castle CCI4*-S, where she finished seventh. Eliza — who’s sometimes called Queen Elizabeth at home because of her royal attitude, and has to be led into the arena to work — has been with Tom since 2015, and throughout her 18 FEI runs, she’s proven a real cross-country specialist, never picking up a jumping penalty in this phase. She’s naturally efficient, too, and is getting quicker as she learns her craft – when she did make her five-star debut at Pau in October, she surprised everyone by securing an exceptional second place finish.

Now, plenty of eyes will be on Tom’s impressive ‘second string’ – he’s arguably one of the hottest favourites to win with his top ride, Toledo de Kerser — as she comes forward for her first Badminton. She’s proven she’s wholly capable of beating out the big guys at this level, but will have a bigger job on her hands this time, as her low-30s dressage will mean she has more climbing to do up the comparatively enormous leaderboard. But she’s a real machine across the country, and reasonably quick, and that’ll give her a massive amount of propulsion towards the business end of the scoreboard. On the final day, she’s prone to a rail, though does jump well on the final day under pressure, and was clear at Pau. This looks like her week to become an eventing household name.

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117: Bill Levett and Lates Quin (AUS) – DEBUTANT HORSE

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Harlequin du Carel x Parksgrove Lass, by Clover Hill). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch. 

Originally waitlisted, Bill’s second ride got the go-ahead to run after the sad withdrawal of US representative Sharon White. It’s an exciting prospect for Bill, though, who’ll now get to tackle Badminton with a horse he knows for sure has got the right stuff, and a talented debutant who he’s about to put his faith in.

And boy, oh boy, what a show of faith it is. This is — count ’em! — Quin’s eleventh international run, though he’s shown some exciting moments of promise since his initial purchase at Monart back in 2016. He wrapped up his 2021 season with a win in the CCI4*-L at Millstreet in Ireland, where he finished on his dressage score of 36.2, coming good after two international runs in a row with cross-country jumping penalties. That’s actually the first time the gelding has ever so much as cracked the top twenty in an FEI event, partly because Bill – a very likeable chap who has the air of your favourite high school history teacher – tends to produce his horses sympathetically with slower runs, and partly because the gelding’s dressage just isn’t quite there yet. He’s a mid-30s horse that can score in the 40s, but he’s also delivered a 31 at four-star, so the potential for better marks is absolutely there.

This won’t be a Badminton run with an aim to be competitive, but rather, it’ll be about establishing this ‘next generation’ top level horse for the future. His first-phase mark will have him out of touch with the leaders, but it’ll be incredibly valuable for him to experience atmosphere in this phase for the first time, particularly as he’s a pandemic product who hasn’t really met crowds yet. On Saturday, we’ll be totally unsurprised to see Bill opt for some long routes and take the time penalties on the chin – because giving Quin a fun, confidence-building run as a ten-year-old will be the fastest way to build a championship horse in time for a potential Paris campaign in two-and-a-half years.

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Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

118: Kylie Roddy and SRS Kan Do (GBR)

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (VDL Arkansas x La Vie En Rose, by Touchdown). Owned by the Fox Family. 

Starch your collar and make sure your silverware is polished, because this exciting debutant horse is owned by Michael C. Fox, an actor best known for his portrayal of footman Andy in the Downton Abbey series and films, and his family. George was actually Michael’s own competition horse originally, and the pair competed to BE100 together before Michael’s burgeoning career meant that he had far less time to ride, and his insurance prevented him from partaking in risky sports. So he handed the reins to local pro Kylie, who had been successful as a Young Rider, competing at two European Championships, and has since built up a business producing event horses and retraining racehorses.

Hardworking Kylie hasn’t come from riches — one of her first jobs as a teenager was making tea and coffee for clients in her mum’s hair salon — but she’s put in the graft and made a name for herself with some exciting results. She describes George, with whom she finished 20th at Blenheim CCI4*-L last year, as the most talented jumper she’s ever ridden, and that confidence was proven well-founded when they headed to Pau in October for their five-star debut. They ultimately finished eleventh there in good company, adding just 5.6 time penalties across the country and 1.6 on the final phase to their impressive 29.1.

That sub-30 score was an all-time personal best for George, so we’ll be looking for a low 30s dressage score to account for Badminton’s tough marking, and then we’ll be looking forward to seeing a repeat of their excellent Pau performances. Eric’s track here is varied and bold, and will favour a horse and rider who have spent time outside the ring, and so it’s hard not to see it suiting this lovely horse, who has the stamp of a reliable fox hunter about him and is clever and brave. We could well see them fight for another spot in the top fifteen or better, though anything will put them on the back foot, it’ll be time penalties – and Kylie, who had elbow surgery just three weeks before Badminton, may opt to ride conservatively to protect her arm.

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