Chatsworth was a reminder of how lucky we are as a sport to be welcomed into the parks of magnificent historic houses. These settings are invaluable to event sponsors, horse owners and audiences. On that note, it’s a blow to hear that after 40 years Belton will no longer run.
The venue is comparable to Chatsworth and the like, although while it has long been popular with competitors, it initially attracted comparatively few spectators. Stuart Buntine later took advantage of its prime setting and has since grown it into a real spectacle.
Belton had kudos and marketing value because of its stately home, but the event’s success was equally thanks to its horse-friendly course.
You could allow a horse to gallop in a rhythm and they could naturally cruise. That sort of flow — which is common at three-day events such as Badminton, Burghley, Bramham or Blenheim (the new L format or old CCI) — is rarely achieved at a one-day event (the new S format or old CIC) where space is often limited. Belton had this flow, as well as natural features, which made the course educational.
Over the past 15 years, many courses have been condensed for crowds to watch from a single spot or broadcasters to cover the maximum number of fences with minimal cameras, but this can be to the detriment of the flow and therefore horses’ enjoyment.
Some of the most popular events have cross-country tracks that send you up and down, forwards, backwards and sideways. For horses, this takes away one of the key ingredients to great cross-country rounds, which is the consistent forwards draw around the course.
The nature of Belton’s course meant it always attracted a top-class field — that then attracts crowds and sponsors.
Let’s hope an alternative can be found to replace Belton’s two major attributes — kudos for spectator pulling power, but also a flowing course.
Outgoing Badminton event director Hugh Thomas has done a brilliant job at growing the event over the past 31 years. Under his guidance, Badminton has enjoyed financial stability and remained an icon for others to follow.
Hugh has earned great respect, and Badminton’s far-reaching exposure and prize money has helped eventing move from being a relatively amateur pursuit to a far more developed, professional sport. Badminton has set the gold standard through the decades.
Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky are the jewels in eventing’s crown and the leadership they show filters down to influence events at other levels across the world. Much like the golf Majors, the tennis Grand Slams or the Classics in flat racing, these big three are sacred events, but as long as they are in safe hands, the sport is in safe hands.
More recent ideas such as the Nations Cup are worthwhile but small-fry in comparison when it comes to gravitas within the sport and the ability to draw audiences from outside eventing’s core fans.
The new Badminton director will be responsible for ensuring the event continues to grow. The fact we also bid farewell to Mitsubishi Motors as title sponsor means this really is the start of a new chapter.
Ref: Horse & Hound magazine; 23 May 2019
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