The pair produced an assured performance across Eric Winter’s five-star track, with just one slightly hairy moment at the HorseQuest Quarry (4abc) to finish 11 seconds inside the time of 11 minutes 44 seconds.
They were held at fence 25, the Badminton Collection Flower Boxes, which was a new experience for the 13-year-old gelding, who Laura co-owns with Keith Scott and Karen Bartlett.
“I just didn’t know how he would cope, but he just came back on the bridle and it was like riding a fresh horse,” said Laura.
“The feeling of coming into the arena at the end was quite something. We’ve missed Badminton and we’ve missed the crowds, and it’s great to be back.
“This horse owes me nothing. He’s given me my first five-star win [at Pau in 2020] and an Olympic gold medal, and this was the biggest, most intense course he has ever seen.”
Eric, who gives a full reflection in the video above, said on the whole he was pleased with the course, but would have liked fewer horse falls.
“I thought the corners in front of the house jumped really well. I loved fence 18 (LeMieux Leap), the brush fence to the open ditch and the way it taught the horses to just shuffle in front – some went on two strides, some went on three and they all completed that really easily,” he said.
He added horses and riders will have learnt from today and he has “certainly taken a lot of information away”.
“I would obviously like less horses on the floor. I think when the ground is very quick and they are going that fast, they make mistakes. That was something that was maybe learnt through the day,” he added.
The course had a 73% completion rate, with 58 of 80 starters crossing the finish line, and a 63% clear jumping rate. A total of six of the 80 starters came home clear and inside the time.
Oliver Townend holds provisional second and third places with his two greys, Swallow Springs and Ballaghmor Class.
Swallow Springs, owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon, was his first ride of the day. Oliver and Swallow Springs were initially eliminated following a particularly sticky jump at the “C” element of the quarry, but their standings were reinstated when footage was examined.
“I still thought the Quarry was on four [strides] when I jumped over the wall and it felt perfect to get nice and deep to the hedge coming out and he just picked up one stride early – I thought there was plenty of room for a little stride but Andrew’s [Swallow Springs’ former rider Andrew Nicholson] produced the horses to go through the flags, and he definitely did that and I stayed on him,” explained Oliver of his worrying moment.
The pair, who are in second position ahead of the showjumping on a score of 25.7, were also held on course, following Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin’s fall at the Mars M (fence 27). A statement from the event said Nicola is stable, but has been transferred to Southmead Hospital for trauma scans and further investigation.
“The horse JL Dublin has returned to his stable and is comfortable,” it added.
Oliver’s second ride, his Olympic team gold medal-winner Ballaghmor Class, owned by Karyn Shuter and Angela Hislop, was lit up ahead of his round and found comfort in the company of some hunt horses.
“He felt a bit cocky and keen at the start but once he settled he was a pleasure to ride,” said Oliver, who is in third with the 15-year-old gelding on a score of 25.9.
“That’s his eighth five-star he’s jumped round clear. He worried me in the warm-up as he was going over the top, then he settled once he saw two grey hunt horses who came over to meet him. They became his friends, like a comfort blanket, and escorted him to the start. He’s a funny, quirky old horse, but one I’ll probably never have again.”
Ros Canter has climbed the leaderboard with both her rides and is in fourth with Michele Saul’s 10-year-old Lordships Graffalo (26) and sixth with her world gold medallist Allstar B (27.6), who she co-owns with Caroline Moore.
Defending champions Piggy March and Vanir Kamira, owned by Trevor Dickens, and 2018 champions Jonelle Price and Classic Moet, who she owns with Trisha and Sophie Rickards, are in fifth and seventh.
Kitty King and her European team gold medallist Vendredi Biats are in eighth on 32.8, while William Fox-Pitt rounds out the top 10 with his two rides. Little Fire is in ninth (33.3) and Oratorio just 0.1 of a penalty behind his stablemate in 10th (33.4).
Tokyo Olympic team gold and individual silver medallists Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser, second place after dressage, fell at the second element of the bounce at Lightsource bp Solar Farm at fence 24. Pippa Funnell (Billy Walk On) and Mollie Summerland, fourth after dressage on Charly Van Der Heiden, both retired after stops at fence 17.
The final horse inspection takes place at 8.30am tomorrow (Sunday) with the first showjumping session commencing at 11.30am.
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