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Badminton Horse Trials blog: lunching with a Rolex Grand Slam contender

We’ve been building up to William Fox-Pitt going for the Rolex Grand Slam at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials for a year, since the cancellation of last year’s event put the kibosh on William attempting then to add the third leg to Burghley 2011 and Kentucky 2012.

Then last weekend, the 2011 Burghley winner Andrew Nicholson won Kentucky, meaning he goes head to head with William here, with either of them pocketing the cheque if they can seal the deal.

Jokingly, as I watched Kentucky, I tweeted that the most popular merchandise at Badminton would be “Team William” and “Team Andrew” t-shirts. One thing led to another and yesterday morning, the H&H stand took delivery of a couple of hundred printed shirts (pictured above).

I’ve been vacillating between thinking this is hilarious and being slightly nervous about what the riders would think, but when I saw William today with one of his team, Hannah Vowles, wearing one (no prizes for which), I knew I was in the clear.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an invitation from Revolution — the classy PR outfit who look after Rolex’s interests in this area — to an “exclusive round table interview” lunch with William today. After Kentucky, I did briefly wonder whether we would have to bounce from lunch with William to lunch with Andrew, in the style of the Vicar of Dibley’s Christmas dinner episode.

In the event, Revolution put on a brunch with Andrew at the coffee break today. I have to admit I missed this — I was interviewing Sandra Auffarth after her test.

However, I did have lunch with William. He wondered what more we could possibly have to ask him, after interviews yesterday, but would you turn down an opportunity to be one of 12 people sitting round a table with a man in line to win a $350,000 cheque? Especially when he’s perhaps the most articulate person in our sport? That’s always going to be interesting.

I’m sure you will read much of what William said in tomorrow’s papers. If he wins, you’ll read plenty of it in my report in H&H next week. But in the meantime…

He said that whoever wins this Badminton, Grand Slam or no Grand Slam, should feel very pleased with themselves. That he thinks it would be great if the Grand Slam was won, but the fact it’s been 10 years since Pippa Funnell won it speaks for itself.

If he did win, it wouldn’t change his life, in the way his first four-star victory at Burghley aged 26 did, or in the way his Badminton win in 2004 did. But he did say that he didn’t think he could better a Grand Slam — from a man who has never taken an individual championship gold — and that winning this Badminton would be “magic”.

The essence of spending half an hour with William was that he seems remarkably relaxed, which may come down to the fact he says he thinks he’s unlikely to win. Apparently this morning Andrew Nicholson was playing up his chances rather more, but over the past two days he has also seemed to be enjoying the challenge, relishing being a leading player in this unfolding drama.

This has, so far, been a happy, happy Badminton. This was exemplified by Zara Phillips on light-hearted form, smacking Dirk Schrade on the bottom under the glare of a billion cameras as she passed him on the way out after her dressage test.

The end of the dressage leaves William and Andrew in fifth and sixth, four and 4.2 penalties behind leader Michael Jung. The easiest place to beat Michael is normally in the dressage, so being realistic, he’s still very much the favourite to win. But both Rolex Grand Slam contenders are in touch, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s game on for tomorrow.

Pippa

PS. In a wild betting frenzy in the H&H office on Thursday, I put a fiver each way on Stefano Brecciaroli at 100/1. He’s now lying second. Do you think I can get a Team Stefano t-shirt printed before tomorrow?

If you’re at Badminton over the weekend, pop to the H&H stand (tradestand 8) to purchase a Team William or Team Andrew t-shirt and show your allegiance loud and clear.

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