Hugh Thomas’s 2008 Badminton cross-country course delivered everything it promised: evenly spread trouble, time-penalties, fabulous action for spectators — and a liberal scattering of ice-cream vans. Crucially, the cross-country had a proper influence on the placings, allowing those who turned in brilliant cross-country performances to climb rapidly up the order. It was everything a four-star course should be.
Mary King and William Fox-Pitt, British team stalwarts who cruised brilliantly round on their first rides, both had problems with their second. Pippa Funnell’s promising dressage start evaporated with a fall and retirement. But Zara Phillips (pictured) reminded everyone that it’s not just because she has the fabulous Toytown that she is World Champion as she became one of only three riders of the day (with New Zealanders Caroline Powell and Dan Jocelyn) to turn in two clear rounds. Not a bad Badminton cross-country debut for the 26-year-old.
Where last year I heard grumbling and indignation out on the cross-country course, this year happy crowds enjoyed perfect walking conditions and a ready stream of horses. Even my two-year-old daughter got thoroughly into the atmosphere, shrieking “Here comes Mary!” as a rapturous crowd welcomed their heroine into the main arena and final fence after a really unlucky fall at the penultimate fence. What a girl to get on and finish.
And best of all, after a spring in which Horse & Hound headlines have been dominated by ugly and tragic eventing stories, the day ended with no major injuries. Instead we enjoyed some really outstanding riding, even from the first-timers who must have been slightly daunted at the size of their first Badminton course. My performance of the day? Charlotte Agnew — just 20 years old. Watch that girl.
Keep up to date with twice daily reports from Badminton on www.horseandhound.co.uk 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.