Mark Phillips: Badminton result was so close, but so well deserved *H&H VIP*

Opinion

After Oliver Townend’s win in Kentucky, which I was lucky enough to see, who would have thought that he would lose Badminton by a quarter of a second, having had a fence and time in hand going into the showjumping?

I won at Badminton in 1972 when Richard Meade had a time-fault, but this was unbelievably close and superb entertainment for Badminton’s record crowd.

But what a week it’s been for Piggy French — she is a class act and this result was so well deserved. We should spare a thought for Oliver Townend. There was so much controversy last year, but this time he was a true gentleman and showed the world his real greatness as a rider.

These two were not the only good news for the Brits. Three years on from a life-threatening fall at Le Lion d’Angers, William Fox-Pitt is riding better than ever, with two horses placed here.

Tina Cook looked great on Billy The Red, but for a simple rider error at the Vicarage Ditch, and cross-country pathfinder Pippa Funnell was as good as ever.

Tom McEwen will want to forget this cross-country day — being late at the start and then breaking a pin was a nightmare come true. Toledo De Kerser showed real class, though, and this could be the perfect wake-up call before the Europeans.

Gemma Tattersall didn’t look back to her best after her fall at Belton but she and Arctic Soul are great competitors and will shine later in the year.

I was also impressed with first-timers Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy. Don’t be surprised if you hear about them again in the future.

For now though, 2019 will always be remembered as Piggy French’s Badminton. We will soon forget that it was the smallest margin ever!

Give the benefit of the doubt

There has been much hot air expelled over the rule awarding 15 penalties if the head, neck, shoulders and pelvis of the horse are not inside the flags.

It has been interpreted differently at different events, so the FEI issued another clarification last week. This latest edition is better, but should not be the final answer.

We have to get back to basics. The rule was introduced to penalise horses who do not “jump the fence”. Sadly, we have reverted to video technology and slide rule accuracy. This isn’t what cross-country is about.

The Badminton ground jury did an excellent job and did not penalise horses who simply nudged flags out the way. The overriding principle has to be to give the rider the benefit of the doubt. If officials need to look at the video five times, the rider must be clear.

A Tokyo 2020 ticket

I’m often critical of the FEI as some strange decisions have come out of Lausanne. I’m now grateful that they have extended my course design licence at least until the end of 2020, which was in doubt because I turned 70 last year.

They’ve also made the Nations Cup part of the qualifying process for the Olympics. So any nation that doesn’t qualify for Tokyo at the Europeans can still win a spot by being the leading non-qualified team after the final at Boekelo in October.

This is great news for the British leg at Houghton as more countries will enter, with the likes of Belgium and Italy giving it a real crack with their top horses and riders.

Ref Horse & Hound; 9 May 2019