Mark Phillips: ‘Badminton will be a treat’


  • Former Olympic team gold medallist, four-time Badminton winner and one of the world’s leading cross-country course-designers, Mark Phillips, reflects on Badminton entries and hope for the national sport

    I was lucky enough to go to the Cheltenham Festival on Gold Cup day, when Rachael Blackmore won under warm spring sunshine in front of record crowds. What a contrast to the Wednesday when I was teaching at home and came in for lunch without a dry stitch of clothing!

    Sadly I did not back Rachael, but I returned with spirits high. As the sunshine continued over the weekend, things looked even better when I saw the list of Badminton entries.

    What a treat we are in for in May. We can look forward to the stars of Tokyo in Tom McEwen, Laura Collett and Oliver Townend coming up against the “young pretenders” – horses that is – from the Europeans in Avenches. Nicola Wilson, Sarah Bulllimore, Piggy March and Kitty King all bring forward their medallists from there, plus the real youngsters – Bubby Upton and Mollie Summerland – hope to come of age at the “Great Event”.

    We have our own “hardy annuals” in the mix too in the likes of William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell and Tina Cook, plus the normal array of Kiwis, Aussies, Irish and half a dozen from America.

    On both sides of the Atlantic spectators are so happy to be out and about again soaking up the live action. Like Cheltenham, I’m sure Badminton will break all records.

    I was also lucky enough to walk the course at Badminton last week with my course advisor hat on. I think this is Eric Winter’s best Badminton yet and it is definitely not a four-star! The trip from the Deer Park down around the Vicarage Ditch is still the stiffest two or three minutes of cross-country anywhere in the world.

    A real spectacle

    IN the US, I recently designed the course for the Bruce’s Field showcase, at advanced level. This is something that has yet to take off in this country, but with $50,000 (£37,900) of prize money and a presenting sponsor in Taylor Harris Insurance Services, most of the top riders were there, in front of a crowd of over 5,000.

    Using two all-weather rings and with a course of 25 fences, covering 2,410 metres of ground at a speed of 535 metres a minute, it was a real spectacle. The crowd were able to see almost every fence and it was covered by just two cameras for live-streaming.

    Hope for British Eventing

    BACK home I’m starting to see a glimmer of hope for British Eventing (BE) with Mark Sartori as the new chairman. He is an extremely smart and capable guy, who knows the sport well – he co-owns Monkeying Around with Izzy Taylor and has a bunch of no-nonsense Aussies based in his yard.

    I believe he understands that down the road we need more of a skill-based board with maybe fewer elected members. He truly has Helen West’s back in her quest to put more value into BE membership and to create a better pathway for officials and coaches, with increased emphasis on planning to try and give BE a more sustainable future.

    The abandonment insurance has gone, but this was a must. We will still lose some events, but it is probably a good thing as the whole fixtures protocol needs blowing up and starting again, with at least BE100, BE90 and BE80 being organised on a regional basis.

    It’s going to take longer to get the unsustainable costs of the IT programme under control and to restructure the head office at Stoneleigh. But finally I’m seeing the will and the talent to break the old mould for the benefit of all members.

    The prospect of inflation and spiralling costs for organisers is a nightmare. But if the sport can work as one under our new leadership, and with funds flowing again from Badminton, Burghley and maybe the odd “fairy godmother”, I really believe the future is bright.

    • Who will you be backing at Badminton? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com to let us know

    • This exclusive column can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 24 March

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