But riders’ predictions that this year’s event would not be a dressage competition were proved correct when Paul was the only one of the top 10 riders after dressage to remain there after the cross-country.
Of the 78 horses that left the start box, only 35 completed, with 22 jumping clear rounds. No one made the optimum time of 11min 21sec. A total of 25 combinations were eliminated, with a further 18 retiring on the course.
Paul said: “I knew this course was going to be influential. We want it to be influential. It wasn’t easy for anyone out there today.”
Problems were spread all around the course, with the Outlander Bank, Mirage Pond and Huntsmans Close all proving influential. A number of frangible pins where triggered, with the back rail of the 2nd oxer in the Team GBR Silver Birches being replaced more than once.
Course-designer Giuseppe della Chiesa admitted that he would have liked to have more horses completing. “There were some unexpected mishaps from top riders. The Lake rode very well, but I didn’t expect people to have so much difficulty with the 2 parallels [at fence 6/7]. The keyhole on the bank rode very nicely last year, but it caused a lot of trouble this year, which was not expected.”
In a very international top 10 after cross-country, New Zealand’s Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy have leapt up an incredible 39 places from =41st after dressage into 2nd with a classy round early in the day.
“He felt brilliant in his fitness and the way he travelled. Unlike a lot of horses, he was still galloping to Huntsmans Close. He’s a long-legged, lanky horse, but he is very honest with power and scope.”
France’s Pascal Leroy is in 3rd with Minos De Petra, who was 30th after dressage. Oliver Townend is the highest placed British rider on Armada (up from =34th overnight) while Australia’s Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh are 5th, up from =25th.
The weather conditions deteriorated during the day, with those going in the last quarter having the worst of it. Even cross-country machine Armada found it challenging, as Oliver admitted.
“For the first time ever, I felt we ran out of petrol,” said Oliver. “Normally I finish with a double handful with Armada’s ears pricked. But I gave him a squeeze and a tap after Huntsmans and there was no reaction whatsoever.
“We jumped through the quarry, which wasn’t too comfortable, then he pricked his ears and galloped down the hill like the good old horse he is.”
Oliver was full of praise for the course: “I thought the course was fantastic. Giuseppe has done an exceptional, and exceptionally brave job, of getting Badminton back to where it is. You would have seen different results if it wasn’t for the weather. This was a proper, proper Badminton.”
Overnight leader Clark Montgomery’s dreams were shattered at Huntsmans Close when a tiring Loughan Glen stopped at the first corner taking the long route. Francis Whittington, 3rd after dressage, retired Easy Target at the same fence.
Lucinda Fredericks pulled up Flying Finish, 4th after dressage, after he cantered away from the Savills Staircase on 3 legs. Lucinda later reported that he had a small cut on his stifle, which had been checked by the vets, but was much more comfortable once back at the stables.