The three-time Kentucky winner explained that he had considered both Jennifer Dowling’s Little Fire and the syndicate-owned Oratorio as possibles for the US five-star.
“But when it came down to costs for owners, the whole trip became impossible, so we rather binned the idea,” he told H&H, explaining taking a horse to the event costs about £20,000.
“I left one horse in the entries because I thought there was no point withdrawing at an early stage. I would probably have gone anyway without a horse, to do stuff for my title sponsor, Jeep.”
The trip became possible because of an approach with an offer of funding from a source who cannot be named.
“I thought, ‘That rather changes everything’. I looked at my horses and thought Oratorio was probably the fitter one – being realistic, I thought Oratorio would be ready and Little Fire wouldn’t,” said William. “I talked to his syndicate of owners, got a bit more sponsorship and we decided to go for it.
“I’m not really a four-star short expert – it’s not part of the sport I love – and to have an up-and-running fit horse aiming for four-star shorts isn’t really why we’re doing it. He’s a proper five-star horse at the peak of his career.
“His last big event was Badminton 2019 and if Burghley was guaranteed, we might have saved him and produced him for Burghley – he’s a real Burghley horse – but in our minds, Burghley is up in the air.
“The poor owners have funded the horse for two years and I suddenly felt we should get on with it and give it a go. He’s a bit low on runs in the past 12 months, but many horses are in the same position and he could go nicely.”
Oratorio leaves for the US on Wednesday (14 April) and William next Monday (19 April).
“We are lucky they are running Kentucky – to have crowd funded it and be running it is a huge achievement from the team and it’s a shame Badminton couldn’t do the same,” said William. “It will be a strange Kentucky as it’s always a very public affair with loads of public and tradestands, so I’m sure it will feel empty and be strange.”
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William gave Oratorio a final run in the advanced at Weston Park on Saturday, where he was third after dressage on 24.9 and had two time-faults in the showjumping. There were inevitably then raised eyebrows when he was eliminated across country, but William explained this was part of his plan.
“It was a lovely course and ground, but there was one jump I didn’t like – the rolltop into water,” he said. “I’ve jumped it many times but I do feel the horses bank it or climb over it and are then punished by landing in water 2m down. If he did something weird or whacked it, I didn’t have time to school him again or be icing or patching up a bruise, with a day on the plane and three days in quarantine, so I thought I’d just go past it.
“Obviously my owners and [British eventing’s high performance coach] Chris Bartle knew what I was going to do. Doing well in Kentucky isn’t about winning Weston Park.”
This will be a second five-star for Oratorio, who was 13th at Badminton last year. He is by Oslo, who won Pau five-star in 2011 with William.
Read our full Kentucky preview in this week’s Horse & Hound (issue dated 15 April) and follow the event with full updates every day on horseandhound.co.uk