Mark Phillips: ‘Badminton is still the one to win’


  • Mark Phillips gives his insight on the five-stars at Badminton and Kentucky

    Harking back to Kentucky Three-Day Event, some of our British Paris hopefuls decided that a Derek di Grazia course there would be a better preparation for the Games than Eric Winter’s Badminton track. The final result, with Oliver Townend, Tom McEwen and Yasmin Ingham first, second and third was a great achievement. But remember, the US A-team pairs were in the CCI4*-S and not the five-star!

    All were disappointed with their dressage for different reasons. Oliver rode like the world number one he is across country and over the coloured poles. I suspect Tom and Yasmin both know they could have won if they had ridden a little more positively.

    The Badminton cross-country was bigger than Kentucky, but less technical, as in many combinations Eric had allowed five, six or occasionally more strides between elements. Once riders have the option of more than four strides, the level of technical difficulty diminishes as they have more time to get organised between fences.

    Many, me included, feared that the drying ground would tire the horses more than it did – the going seemed to improve through the day. The riders needed appreciation for their sensible riding. There was no one inside the time, but that was as much to do with the turns and rollbacks as the ground.

    The FEI celebrated as there were no horse falls, but I suspect Eric will be disappointed at the picture some of the fences produced.

    The LeMieux Eyelash Brushes (fence 15abc) made for ugly viewing and the Agria Silver Birch Rails (fence 21) didn’t flow. The striding wasn’t great at either the Ineos Grenadier Sunken Road (fence 20abc) – where the three was very long, the four very short – or the Lightsource bp Mound, where it was difficult to make the direct route look smooth.

    Having said that, apart from the log coming out of the Mars Sustainability Bay, the questions were clear for the horses to understand and problems came all round the course, with 50% of starters jumping clear, which is the course-designer’s dream. I just feel the good pairs should make it look easy.

    Top-notch display

    On cross-country day, Tim Price on Vitali lived up to pre-race favouritism. Emily King put in a performance the selectors will find hard to ignore – as did William Fox-Pitt, although the showjumping put paid to that, even before his retirement announcement. And Bubby Upton impressed, but will be disappointed with the 11 penalties for a MIMclip activation.

    Ros Canter led the dressage, where twos, threes, eights and nines seemed to be rationed, probably at her expense. But then Izilot DHI never showed the form of Pau last year and Thoresby this spring on cross-country day, before retiring at The Lake. Hopefully, this is a temporary setback and can be rectified.

    William Fox-Pitt had a showjumping nightmare, then Tim Price followed suit – 11 fences total down for the top two overnight is a new Badminton record!

    With the modern sport increasingly about a six-minute track at CCI4*-S and 10 minutes at championships, many fear for the future of the longer, greater five-star examination. Somehow Badminton never got this memo. It remains The Great Event, the one to win, and last weekend the entertainment was top notch, right up to the very end with an unexpected win for Caroline Powell.

    Unsung hero

    After five years, Malcolm Wharton is stepping down as chair of British Equestrian (BEF) and Fields Wicker-Miuren takes over on 1 July. This is a thankless job and Malcolm is an unsung hero. When he took over, the BEF had had six CEOs and chairs in two years and UK Sport had suspended funding for our Paris Olympic effort. We are now back on track, with strong Paris prospects. We owe Malcolm so much. Fields takes over with a glittering past. With her energy and enthusiasm, the future is bright.

    ● What did you think of Badminton’s cross-country day? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 16 May

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