Both events are five-stars — the top level of eventing around the world — and in some ways they are oh so similar. The weather can be equally unpredictable at each, for example, and they both offer an absolute feast of sport, with riders battling fiercely to take the title. But they also each have a distinct flavour…
1. Kentucky is run at a permanent horse park, which hosts other competitions and events through the year. The dressage and showjumping (above) take place on an all-weather surface.
Badminton Park hosts an eventing competition just once a year and riders perform the first and last phases (and start the cross-country) on the hallowed turf of its temporary main arena.
2. Badminton has a bigger and more international field. The British spring five-star is nearly always oversubscribed and the ballot and waiting list system has to be brought into play, with 85 horses as the maximum start list. Usually there are actually about 82 or 83 because a few drop out after the deadline for replacements from the waiting list (2pm the Sunday before the event).
Riders from 12 nations will start at Badminton this year, depending on final withdrawals. Kentucky currently has a start list of 45 pairs, from eight different countries.
3. Kentucky has an official vodka, Tito’s Handmade Vodka. We think this is an innovation that Badminton could definitely benefit from.
4. Badminton is the older event — it celebrates its 70th birthday this year, having started in 1949. Kentucky hosted its first horse trials in 1976, as preparation for running the World Championships in 1978.
5. Lots of people still refer to Kentucky as “Rolex”, the timepiece sponsor which was the event’s headline supporter for many years, but which has now been replaced with Land Rover. “The-event-formerly-known-as-Rolex” is a standing joke. Maybe we’ll have to start calling Badminton “The-event-formerly-known-as-the-Mitsubishi-Motors-Badminton-Horse-Trials” from 2020?
6. We might think the home side could have a better recent record at Badminton — we’ve only had two British wins in the past decade (Oliver Townend in 2009 and William Fox-Pitt in 2015) — but patriotic eventing fans in the US have it worse. Kentucky has not had a home side winner since Phillip Dutton in 2008.
7. Badminton is the richer event, with the winner there taking home £100,000. At Kentucky the victor’s cheque is for $110,000 (approximately £85,000).
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8. Badminton hosts a grassroots championship, the Mitsubishi Motors Cup, alongside its five-star class, offering amateur riders a chance to experience a seriously prestigious big event atmosphere.
Kentucy doesn’t have any other eventing at the same time as the horse trials, but it does run a $225,000 CSI3* invitational 1.60m showjumping grand prix on Saturday night after the cross-country, as well as a 1.45m ranking class on Friday afternoon.
9. No one has ever completed the Rolex Grand Slam at Kentucky, but Michael Jung confirmed the prize at Badminton in 2016. The US five-star forms a leg of this challenge, along with Badminton and Burghley, and the lucrative cash prize goes to any rider who can win all three consecutively. Pippa Funnell completed the trio at Burghley in 2003, but Kentucky is yet to have a winner close out the challenge on US soil.
In 2009, Britain’s Oliver Townend won Badminton on Flint Curtis and Burghley on Carousel Quest. He went to Kentucky to try to win the Grand Slam with Ashdale Cruise Master and ODT Master Rose — with some drama, due to a volcanic ash cloud disrupting his travel plans — but was airlifted to hospital after a fall with Ashdale Cruise Master.
Don’t miss H&H’s Badminton preview in 25 April issue including a cross-country course walk with world champion Ros Canter, plus full Badminton form guide and Kentucky report in 2 May issue.