“Are you shaking?” asked Emily Galbraith of Charlotte Agnew as they met in the collecting ring half an hour ago.
Both of them had just completed their first Badminton, with a cross-country stop apiece and a few show jumps down, but this was still a massive achievement for these two 20-year-olds. This is what it’s all about for me at Badminton — the excitement doesn’t just come from watching the top few, although I’ll certainly be on the edge of my seat this afternoon, but also from seeing up-and-coming combinations who I’ve watched come up through the levels.
Emily and Charlotte were on the young rider team which won a gold medal at Blair last year, along with fellow Badminton first-timer Georgie Spence. Watching these three go cross-country was one of the highlights of yesterday for me. It’s a cliché, but they all rode with maturity beyond their years.
Georgie, 19, recorded a clear round with Running Brook II and currently lies in 16th place. She will jump this afternoon and has a good chance of taking home the saddle for the best performance by a British rider who is aged under-25, has not worn senior team colours or won the saddle before.
Having thought I was a useless tipster after the dressage — I chose Nicolas Touzaint (Hildago De L’Ile), William Fox-Pitt (Tamarillo) and Mary King (Imperial Cavalier) while talking on Radio Badminton on Thursday — there was a moment yesterday afternoon when I thought I might have named the first three after cross-country.
But then, to gasps in the press tent, the formbook was ripped up as Mary and William both had well-documented errors. Nicolas Touzaint is still in the hot seat and could become the first Frenchman to win the event — the 27-year-old would be a rider worthy of making history in such a way.
But William is still in with a chance of winning on second ride Ballincoola, and no one should discount Lucy Wiegersma (Shaabrak) or Polly Stockton (Tom Quigley), who are poised behind Nicolas. All four are within a fence, and Hildago De L’Ile does not have the best record in this phase.
I saw him lower two show jumps when he won Pau last autumn — to the horror of the French crowd, who got the result they wanted nevertheless — and wouldn’t bet against the same happening again. But on that occasion, having had two down early on, Nicolas showed all his class to get the horse to clear the rest of the fences. Who knows what’ll happen this time if he goes in without a fence in hand? And who can put the pressure on him? It’s pouring with rain here, so perhaps Polly Stockton, who hunts regularly, will have the edge.
Log back onto www.horseandhound.co.uk later for a final Badminton report and don’t forget to buy H&H next Thursday (8 May) for a 16 page report, with comments from Carl Hester, Ginny Elliot and William Fox-Pitt.