‘She could have gone round in a headcollar’: William Fox-Pitt gives cross-country masterclass at Badminton

  • Twice William Fox-Pitt has won the Badminton trophy. He has 14 CCI5* victories to his name, more than any other rider. But over the Mars Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course, he demonstrated why there may yet be another accolade to come in his extraordinary career.

    William had hinted earlier in the week that this might be his last Badminton, and he put in an astonishing round on his mare Grafennacht, who was lying eighth after dressage. If this really is his last hurrah at the event, what a way to bow out.

    “I was trying very hard, she is an amazing mare,” he said. “She always say yes, doesn’t that make life easy? My reins were getting a bit long but she didn’t need reins – she could have gone round in a headcollar.

    “I chose to take a long route although I knew she was unlikely to make the time doing a long route. This is potentially my last Badminton and she was going so well, so I was thinking all the way round ‘do I, don’t I?’. She would have gone straight, but  I didn’t want to go home with an annoying cock-up. That was a risk I took. It was the right choice, but my boys will certainly tell me off for not going for it!”

    With William’s trademark calm style and tight lines, he gave the horse every confidence, and she was smooth and catlike in return. He was up on the clock over the first section of the track, a second faster even than speed merchants Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson, the quickest at that stage. He stopped the clock just 2.4sec over the time, a brilliantly fast round.

    William, 55, was surrounded by his  – and other people’s – children at the finish line.

    “My kids might actually remember my doing well here,” he says. “This is my 26th completion cross-country, you can’t be greedy forever. I probably ought to grow up and get a new habit! But we’re still in the fight for now.”

    Badminton Horse Trials cross-country: “Her heart and brain have got her here”

    Wiltshire-based US rider Tiana Coudray was another top-10 rider nursing their dressage score over Eric Winter’s track, in sixth place. This horse has fancy footwork – looking so scopey through the troublesome LeMieux Eyelash Brushes. She gave Tiana a dream ride, bar one nervy moment, but they weren’t fast enough to maintain their position, clocking 30 time-faults.

    “I have a Badminton horse!” said Tiana. “She had to fight in a few places. She pecked really badly landing over the Broken Bridge, but luckily I stayed in the middle and she came back underneath me. Her heart and her brain are what have got her here.

    “I’m kicking myself because I set out quite slow, but I think got it in my head that it’s hot and the ground is tough and horses are struggling to finish. But having said that, she finished brilliantly and she’s had a fantastic trip – hopefully it’s the first of many.”

    Harry Meade and the 17-year-old Away Cruising – his sole ride at Badminton after he withdrew his other two – were another pair to give a cross-country masterclass, but they did survive a heart-in-mouth moment. The grey caught a toe going down the drop at the Lightsource bp Mound, pitching Harry forward out of the saddle. With an intricate threading of his tracks, he managed to negotiate the alternative for the following elements without incurring penalty.

    “He’s an old friend – we know each other back to front and sideways,” Harry said. “It was going brilliantly, then he just left a leg on the lip and wasn’t on the line to jump the direct route, so I had to think how to do an S bend without crossing my tracks. Thinking on my feet, I managed to stay clear but it wasted about half an hour of time.”

    They still only clocked 20.4 time-faults and moved well up the leaderboard from 51st.

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