The field lining up for Badminton have won 131 international titles between them in the past seven years.
While it is likely to be the strongest field we will see line up anywhere in 2017, one horse sits head and shoulders above the rest. Michael Jung’s ride La Biosthetique-Sam FBW set the record-winning score at this venue last year (34.4). His six four-star triumphs mean he has won more at the top level than the rest of the field combined and twice that of any other horse in our system (Primmore’s Pride and Headley Britannia won three four-stars each).
It is hard to imagine “Sam” out of the top 10. Both he and Andrew Nicholson’s Nereo arrive here looking to become the first event horses to reach a monumental 10 top-10 finishes at four-star level.
If the rain stays away, a good start is essential. Since 2010, the only Badminton winners to come from outside the top five after dressage are Paulank Brockagh (2014, from 25th) and Inonothing (2010, from 11th), both wet years.
There shouldn’t be too many surprises on the leaderboard by Friday night — Ingrid Klimke’s ride Horseware Hale Bob and Sam are likely to lead, with Nereo, Designer 10 (Bettina Hoy) and Piaf De B’Neville (Astier Nicolas) all strong contenders for the top five.
From a Team GBR point of view, Oliver Townend’s ride MHS King Joules is the only British horse with a sub-40 dressage score at the level and, alongside Grand Manouevre (Laura Collett) and Ceylor LAN (Kitty King), will probably spearhead the home nation challenge in the first phase.
Two big variables come into play on Saturday, the weather and the new course-designer Eric Winter. Three of the past four winners haven’t added to their dressage score (they all finished sub-40) so we are looking for reliability and speed.
Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul’s clear jumping record stretches back to 2013. They made the time here last season in what was the best British performance of 2016 and will expect to lead the home nation contingent again this year.
When it comes to speed, Nereo has a 52% clear inside the time rate from 23 three- and four-star runs since 2010. Lebowski (Beanie Sturgis) is at 50% from 24 runs at those levels. Chris Burton has proved all around the world how quick he can be but he is waiting for a clear inside the time at Badminton. TS Jamaimo will help him change that — he is a former four-star winner and potential top-five finisher here.
If Sam and Horseware Hale Bob do lead after dressage, they will have no room for penalties.
The round to watch will be Piaf De B’Neville — his elimination across country at Saumur in March is not ideal, but he has three clears inside the time from three starts at top level including his debut at Badminton, his Pau win and his individual silver at Rio. He and Astier are likely to be in the top three heading into Sunday.
Ceylor Lan (Kitty King) and Cooley Rorkes Drift (Jonty Evans) could well be climbers on Sunday — Ceylor LAN has 10 consecutive international jumping clears at three- and four-star level and Cooley Rorkes Drift has six.
Whether they can climb above Mark Todd’s Leonidas II is hard to see — he is back to his best and he has everything he needs to jump clear and land a place in the top five.
The final rail cost Michael Jung a win here in 2013. Any poles down will be similarly costly this year and there will be a long list of people hoping to be ready to pick up the pieces. It looks likely to be the Germans and a Frenchman sharing the final podium.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 April 2017