Leading Irish rider vows to bring Badminton trophy home one day after podium finish

  • Ireland’s Austin O’Connor finished third on Colorado Blue at Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian. Austin appeared to have the runner-up position within his grasp as he approached the last double in the final showjumping phase. However, the grey rather launched himself at the first element, then had both the fences down, plus 1.2 time-faults. They finished behind the wide-margin winner Ros Canter (Lordships Graffalo) and runner-up Oliver Townend (Ballaghmor Class).

    “I am disappointed,” said Austin. “He didn’t jump as well out of this ground as he can so it caught up with us, but to be on the podium with two heroes, alongside two of the best riders in the world, I couldn’t be happier. I think you’ll be seeing an Irish rider win this in the next four or five years. And I hope he’s sitting on the podium now.”

    Watch Austin reflect on his Badminton result

    Austin, 48, is the first Irish rider on the Badminton podium since 1983, when the now successful racehorse trainer Jessica Harrington finished third behind Lucinda Green.

    “Personally it’s great, and hopefully it’s a lift for eventing at home,” Austin reflected. “Following someone like Jessica Harrington into that position is pretty amazing.”

    The pair made an extraordinary climb up the leaderboard from the first phase. They were 34th after dressage, but clocked the fastest cross-country time of the day by some margin to catapult up to second spot before the final showjumping phase.

    Spectacular showjumping clears at Badminton Horse Trials

    Clear rounds were a rarity on today’s rain-sodden ground. But if you could predict any pair to jump clear over a tricky track, it would be Tom McEwen and his Olympic individual silver medallist Toledo De Kerser. They were lying fifth after cross-country, and produced their usual poetry in motion over the coloured poles to go clear inside the time and move up to fourth. Tim Price’s ride Vitali, who was above him in fourth, knocked down three to slip to seventh.

    “That was truly class, he was airborne, he was loving it, he felt light and finished off so well,” said Tom after achieving his best Badminton result. “He loves this phase when everyone’s watching him and it’s all about him. He’s such a showman and would have done another lap! It was the best round he’s jumped since Burghley in 2017 when he came fourth. We were so connected and I wouldn’t have changed anything at all. It was lovely he has had a great time and hopefully on to better things later on in the year.”

    Watch Tom talk about his performance

    Tim, meanwhile, was sanguine about his three fences down, calling them “a better three down than at Burghley”. “We’ll get there eventually, because he’s an awesome horse,” he added.

    Tom Jackson, 10th after the cross-country, produced a stunning round on the Burghley runner-up Capels Hollow Drift to post the first clear round inside the time. They finished fifth.

    “He gave me everything yesterday, and I expected him to be on the tired side, but he’s come out full of beans and jumped like a stag,” Tom said. “It was one of those occasions when everything goes to plan. I was trying to do tight turns without being too risky and it paid off.”

    Watch Tom talk about his result

    Gemma Stevens had the final fence down on Jalapeno to drop below Tom Jackson into sixth. Gemma’s pure showjumping experience came to the fore, when the chestnut launched rather awkwardly through the tricky water-tray double at five, but they left them both standing.

    “Jalapeno isn’t the most amazing jumper but she tried really hard today,” said Gemma. “I do a lot of showjumping and tried to carry her around and help as much as I could. Unfortunately I was a little off the last fence and she had the back rail down, but she has finished so well and strongly. This Badminton has been a bit of a marathon, but we are happy to be at the end with a happy and sound horse.”

    Watch Gemma speak about her round

    Tough conditions in Badminton main arena

    The youngest rider in the competition, 21-year-old Alice Casburn, kicked off the afternoon session of the top 20 riders on her home-bred Topspin. This impeccable showjumper – ridden as always on a relaxed long rein by Alice – lowered the upright fence 6 and added 0.4 of a time-fault. They finished 18th, despite a run-out late on the cross-country course, an indication of the influence of the jumping phases.

    “He’s so special, yesterday was really tough, but he tries so hard week in, week out,” said Alice. “It really shows our partnership, I didn’t ride my best round today, but every time, he goes, ‘it’s all right, I’ve got your back’.”

    Both Bubby Upton (Cola) and Ros Canter on her first ride Pencos Crown Jewel had two down, which was still good enough to take eighth and ninth respectively. Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope looked on target for a rare clear inside the time while holding ninth place, but they knocked down two fences in the last section of the course to take 10th.

    Watch Bubby reflect on her round

    The competition’s pathfinders Wills Oakden and Oughterard Cooley were lying 14th coming into the showjumping. While they jumped a beautifully judged round inside the time, they had two fences down along the way, but still moved up to 12th.

    William Fox-Pitt’s Grafennacht looked a trifle green at her first five-star. She lowered the first water tray, and then knocked down two more. Although William was inside the time, he dropped two places to finish 14th.

    Watch William talk about this five-star mare

    Harry Meade and Away Cruising also hit the first of the double of water trays – the bogey fence on Kelvin Bywater’s showjumping track – and went on to lower two more. He actually retained his finishing position ahead of James Rushbrooke (Milchem Eclipse), but impeded his chances of moving further up the order, and was 16th in the final reckoning.

    “It’s his weakest phase, but he is getting better in his old age,” said Harry. “It’s so soft you couldn’t hear the fences fall, so I was blissfully unaware of the faults. It’s a mission just to get the horses to this level, keep them sound, get the to the start and an even bigger mission to get them to the finish. It means so much because of the blood, sweat and tears over so many years. It’s a really special moment, and it’s why we love our horses so much.”

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