‘He is an exceptional athlete’ — all change at the top after Badminton cross-country

Oliver Townend leads the way after the cross-country phase of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials today (4 May). Riding his 2017 Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class, he stopped the clock just one second over the optimum time of 11min 45sec to finish on 21.5. This gives him a 5.6 penalty advantage over his nearest rival going into the showjumping tomorrow.

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“We had awful preparation for this event last year with the weather causing problems with the spring events, so this year I wanted to show the world how good this horse is,” said Oliver of the grey 12-year-old, owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan. “You won’t see many rounds like that one at Badminton — we were 14 seconds down coming out of The Lake and I said ‘go’ and he went — he is an exceptional athlete. He was perfect and better than ever.”

Piggy French, who led for most of the day, now sits in second aboard Trevor Dickens’ 14-year-old mare Vanir Kamira. They were just two seconds over the optimum time.

“She’s amazing and such a game little mare,” said Piggy. “She really comes into her own at Badminton and Burghley — at one-day open intermediate level she doesn’t feel like she has any scope and doesn’t give you any confidence, but she comes here and feels like a completely different horse.”

Australia’s Chris Burton had an exceptional day and was responsible for two of the five rounds that finished inside the optimum time. He is in third with Graf Liberty and fifth on Cooley Lands.

“I’m very lucky to ride both of these horses and I have fast horses,” said Chris. “Graf Liberty makes my job easy as he’s very manoeuvrable and goes in just a snaffle. I couldn’t believe how full of running he was at the end — whenever I wanted him to, he galloped away easily. Cooley Lands is an unbelievably fast across the ground — I was 10 seconds up everywhere so I tried to concentrate on chilling him out.”

Dressage leaders Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo were clear but 31 seconds over the time and now sit in seventh on 32.1.

“He got the trip, which no one believed he would and I could not be happier for my team and his owner Sally-Anne Eggington,” said Oliver. “He was very, very good and genuine. He emptied out towards the end but he still came home quick as I looked after him all the way round.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser, who were third after the dressage have dropped down to 16th after incurring 11 penalties for a broken frangible pin. They landed on the back of the triple bar jumping out of the bottom of The Lake and also added 8.8 time-faults.

“It was a multitude of small errors — 11 penalties is 11 penalties, it’s just one of those things,” said Tom, who also added there was confusion over his start time and that the clock had already started by the time he got into the main arena to leave the start box. He is unsure if he will appeal the time at the time of writing.

Andrew Nicholson is fourth on Swallow Springs thanks to a fast clear round, finishing one second inside the time.

“He’s a very, very good galloper and doesn’t pull,” said Andrew of the 11-year-old, who is tackling his first Badminton.

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The other two competitors to go inside the time were New Zealand’s Tim Price, who is sixth on Ringwood Sky Boy and his fellow Kiwi Virginia Thompson, who is eighth on Star Nouveau. Bill Levett is ninth with Lassban Diamond Lift, who is 18.4 penalties adrift of the leader, and Tina Cook is close behind him in 10th on Billy The Red.

The final horse inspection will take place tomorrow morning at 8.30am.

Pick up this week’s magazine (dated 2 May) for the full H&H Badminton form guide and check back to the H&H website for details and news of the final day of competition.