Three years or so ago, when he came out of retirement and returned to Blighty to plan an Olympic campaign, I asked Mark Todd what he knew about the new young talents making a name the sport.
‘Heard of Laura Collett, for example?’ I asked him. ‘No,’ he replied. He has now. He’s breathing down her neck after the dressage phase at the 2011 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
The first phase leaders are sitting before me as I write — blonde, bubbly, brilliant (Ruth Edge, Piggy French and Laura Collett) — fielding questions from the press. Lucky Britain.
Badminton 2011 has so far felt more like Butlins than the world’s most famous horse trial. There are ice creams being scoffed wherever you look, children and dogs swimming in the Lake and spectators in bikini tops. But the mirage was shattered this afternoon as the final 12 in the dressage gave the leaderboard a thorough shake up.
Nicola Wilson proved that Opposition Buzz isn’t just a brilliant cross-country pathfinder by riding a really smart 44pen test to lie 12th after the first phase. The horse is sometimes compared with the super solid cross-country horse Over To You — but his dressage is a cut above his ever was, or was at least today.
We’re used to watching Oliver Townend deliver smart dressage marks on smart greys (think Flint Curtis and Carousel Quest) and he did it again on Ashdale Cruise Master — sadly breaking in the first medium trot (40.5pens for 7th place). With Lenamore, Imperial Cavalier and Nereo all allowing their exuberance to bubble over at some stage, the big performances today were from Piggy French on Jakata — smooth and elegant throughout, she deservedly won straight nines for her riding — and Mark Todd on NZB Land Vision.
Who will be the winner? It’s anyone’s guess. I am rooting for Piggy. But the clocks could be wound back 20 years with Toddy taking the laurels. Or a girl who wasn’t even born when he first won it might beat him to it. Or maybe, at last, Ruth Edge’s Two Thyme will redeem himself at the age of 17 for all those frittered first phase leads and still be leading this time tomorrow night…