From the horse who completed seven times in a row to a mare whose son followed her into the runner-up spot, Catherine Austen and Pippa Roome tell the story of 10 of Badminton’s equine superstars
His 2017 Badminton win made Nereo the event’s oldest winner, at 17, and gave Andrew Nicholson his long awaited victory on his 37th completion. The horse finished in the top 12 at the event on another four occasions.
The Spanish-bred Nereo started out as a “gawky” ugly duckling and Andrew sold him unseen to long standing owner Libby Sellar.
“She was in New Zealand at the time and I said she should buy him without looking at him as she wouldn’t like what she saw — when she saw him at an event three months later she didn’t like him at all,” he remembers.
“When I began eventing him a lot of riders wondered what on earth I was doing, but I told them that Nereo was going to be good.”
The horse also won Pau CCI4* (now CCI5*) in 2012, was second at Burghley three times and a three-time Olympic and world bronze medallist.
“Nereo’s had to work very, very hard,” said Andrew after his Badminton win. “Dressage hasn’t been natural for him. Across country he is a lovely galloper, but he has a big stride so undulating ground is hard for him. He gives 100% every single time.”
Who came third to Arkle and Mill House in the 1965 Cheltenham Gold Cup? Bet you didn’t know it was the event horse Stoney Crossing. And what makes it trebly interesting is that the Australian thoroughbred finished sixth at Badminton a month later, having finished sixth in the Aintree Foxhunters’ in between.
Ridden on all three occasions by the great Australian stockman Bill Roycroft, 100/1 shot Stoney Crossing finished 30 lengths behind the great pair. He fell at the Chair at Aintree, but was remounted to complete.
Bill was 51 at the time, and Stoney Crossing was one of his three Badminton rides that year, along with Eldorado and Avatar. He was the first person to ride three horses round Badminton at the same event – the only other was Lorna Clarke in 1970.
This amazing 15.3hh mare was bred by Major Derek Allhusen from a captured German army mare called Laura, whom he brought home in 1947. Laurien was by Lord Mildmay’s stallion Davy Jones, who had run out at the last fence of the 1936 Grand National when his reins broke while in the lead.
Laurien was second at Badminton with Major Allhusen in 1958 and fourth in 1959. A brilliant showjumper and faultless across country, she was on two medal-winning European Championship teams – Copenhagen in 1957 and Harewood in 1959, where she also took individual bronze.
Allhusen hoped to take her to the 1960 Rome Olympics, but unsoundness forced her into retirement, as a broodmare. Five of her eight foals lived, and in 1964 she produced Laurieston, with whom Richard Meade was second at Badminton in 1972, and won team and individual gold at the Munich Olympics.
Ballycotton is one of the great “unsung heroes” of Badminton. He shares the record of seven completions with Over To You, Comanche and Lenamore — six with his owner Andrew Harris (1990-1995), and he gave then 23-year-old Sarah Longshaw (now Bullimore) her first ride round in 1997. His best result was 11th with a double clear in 1991, and he was also seventh and 10th at Burghley.
“He was an amazing horse and it was a huge privilege to ride him,” says Sarah. “He had such an aura about him — all the other horses in the yard looked up to him. He was so wise. He grew a hand at Badminton; he believed the whole crowd was there to see him.”
Horton Point won Badminton in 1994 when he was 16, holding the record as the oldest winner for more than 20 years until Nereo’s win in 2017. Bought in 1978 as a six-month-old foal by Ros and Lynne Bevan’s father, “Sid” was ninth at Badminton in 1988 with Ros. Lynne and Sid were 16th at Badminton in 1991, 13th in 1992, and 16th in 1993.
In 1994 Lynne broke her collarbone at Bicton the weekend before Badminton. The sisters asked Mark Todd to take over and ride their precious horse. The new pairing were second after dressage, and led overnight after Sid jumped clear across country inside the time for the first time in his career. He jumped a faultless showjumping round for the third year in a row and took the £20,000 first prize comfortably. He was retired from eventing immediately.
Kilbarry played a far greater part in the history of Badminton than most winners. Colonel Frank Weldon bought him for £750 as a five-year-old in 1952 to race, and Kilbarry won his first point-to-point easily, but contracted flu and had to be hobdayed, which brought his racing career to an end.
He won Badminton in 1955 and 1956, having finished second twice, and brought home team gold and individual bronze from the Stockholm Olympics in 1956.
Kilbarry broke his neck at the Cottesbrook Horse Trials the following year, aged only 10. Frank was devastated, but when he began course-designing the experience made him determined to ensure fences were fair to the horse, even if also rider-frighteners – the fence at which Kilbarry fell had an unseen solid rail behind the brush.
This became his mantra when he took over as the Badminton course-designer in 1965 and he stuck to it for more than 20 years.
Clissy Strachan’s mount completed Badminton in six consecutive years, from 1976 to 1981. He was fifth that first year as an eight-year-old, and Clissy was just 23.
“He was an absolute liability to deal with in the stable and the start box,” remembers Clissy, now Bleekman.
“He was larger than life, an out-and-out Badminton horse and brave as a lion. My father was walking him back after we’d finished the cross-country and Col Sir John Miller said, ‘Wow, he looks great, what time does he start?’”
The pair won team gold at the 1977 Europeans, silver in 1979, and were sixth individually at the 1982 world championships. Clissy then retired him from eventing and hunted him with the Silverton for several seasons.
Lenamore has now superseded Merry Sovereign’s record, with seven consecutive finishes, while Sam Griffiths’ ride Paulank Brockagh, has also equalled it – she won in the tremendously wet ground year of 2014 and completed yearly from 2013 to 2018.
This popular 15.2hh grey is the only horse to have completed Badminton seven times in a row. He finished in the top 14 on all but one occasion, his best result being fourth in 2008. He also won Burghley in 2010 and was an Olympic team bronze medallist for New Zealand.
Lenamore (Ed) was by Seacrest and bred by Ted Walsh in Ireland. He was produced by owner Lexi Jackson (née Mackinnon) up to three-star (now four-star) before she handed the reins to Caroline Powell in 2004.
Lexi says: “Both Ed and Caroline are feisty. But she never tried to dominate him and always worked with him. Across country they were poetry in motion, without a hair out of place.”
The cheeky, quirky star remained very much a Mackinnon family horse, going home for holidays and to do his walk work, and when Lexi got married the week after his Burghley win, Ed made a guest appearance.
When Lenamore retired in 2013, at the age of 20, Caroline said: “He is so sure of himself and has such a sense of humour. I’ll never forget being half an hour late to get him in because I was watching Geoff Billington win the Hickstead Derby. He jumped out and I found him in the feed shed. He liked his routine just so.”
“The Chilli story is that of the greatest eventing stallion ever and we surely won’t see his like again,” ran H&H’s 2015 Badminton report.
Bred by Rainer Schicketanz and found in Germany by Nick Gauntlett as a potential London 2012 horse, Chris and Lisa Stone’s Phantomic son Chilli Morning was already a world and European individual bronze medallist with William Fox-Pitt by the time he became the first – and so far only – stallion to win Badminton.
After a stop across country at Kentucky 2013, William knew he had to let this alpha male feel he was the dominant partner, at least some of the time, which fed into how he learnt to ride him.
“He’s an exceptional horse and he is handicapped by being a stallion, which makes his life very difficult,” said William after his Badminton win. “He has a brilliant brain and every day he wants to work.
“He goes from sleepy to seriously strong in a moment. It took me time to learn how to switch him on and off.
“He’s very tough. Even when he’s tired, I can give him a nudge, and he’ll roll up his sleeves and say, ‘Let’s go.’ When he’s with you, he’ll jump through the eye of a needle for you.”
La Biosthetique-Sam FBW
The Badminton 2016 winner was dismissed as “nondescript” when he was presented for stallion licensing as a two-year-old, but is considered by many to be the greatest event horse of all time. He certainly has an unsurpassed championship record, with his eight medals including two Olympic individual golds and world and European individual gold.
His pillar-to-post triumph at Badminton 2016 concluded Michael Jung’s Rolex Grand Slam – Sam also contributed Burghley 2015 – and his wins at the British classics endeared this ultimate trier to the British public in a way that all the silverware in the world abroad never quite could. He was also second at Badminton in 2013 and 2017 and 10th in 2018, his final international event.
Chris Bartle, who was German team trainer throughout Sam’s reign, put the pair’s success down to “75% Michael, 25% Sam’s heart – but his heart counts for a lot; he gives it everything. He wasn’t born with exceptional ability, but he tries his heart out.”
Michael describes the Stan The Man son as “a big friend to me, not just a horse”.
Ref Horse & Hound; 7 May 2020