|$350,000 Rolex Grand Slam Contenders Andrew Nicholson & William Fox-Pitt|
The sport of eventing is made up of three ‘tests’ covering three very different disciplines, and requires a horse and rider to perform in perfect harmony in order to win at this level, and as we all know where horses are concerned there are no guarantees, so can we really dismiss 90% of the field going forward for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials Trophy?
|Michael Jung – Grand Slam Spoiler?|
There is no doubt the “three kings” (Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt & Michael Jung) are in the very best form of their careers. They’ve all won medals at the last World & Olympic Games, They’ve all won 4 star events in the last 2 years. All three are the coolest characters under pressure and nothing short of Murhpy’s Law could possibly predict an alternative outcome other than one of these three lifting the trophy in a week’s time. But we’ve seen major upset and the unexpected at championships & 4 star level before – The Germans at WEG 2010, The Brits at the Europeans, and Andrew Nicholson has had 32 attempts at Badminton without luck before. Pippa Funnell, currently, the only winner of the Rolex Grand Slam seemed invincible and then saw her hopes dashed of a follow up win at Badminton one year, falling from both her entries. So anything that can happen, could happen.
The three kings have 6 of the very best horses between them and yes it’s unlikely you’ll see all of these six horses fail to to shine, but I think Badminton is more unpredictable than most events. It’s the first significant test of the European season, and the crowd factor is unlike any other event. These factors alone make it hard to predict an outcome. I’d go as far as to say not even the London Olympics will have given quite the same level of crowd experience a horse will meet at Badminton in the vicarage fields (but it’s as close as you could get). Add to this the possible effect the weather can have on the competition and I think you’ll find it harder to predict a Badminton winner than any other 4 star – Of these three leading contenders, William is the only one to have won it, and only once, compare that to the number of Burghley wins he and Andrew have between them and you’ll see what I mean.
There are plenty more in the field with 3 & 4 star wins, or the class to capture a first 4 star prize, with or without misfortune befalling the kings. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the following somewhere in the top 10:
Paul Tapner & Kilronan:
I’m possibly a little biased in my choice of this pair but I’ve followed this horse’s progress for the latest few years, and I’ve not seen many with this amount of scope that can handle attention and pressure so well. The horse is just so laid back it’s unreal, and of course Paul is more than capable of winning at this level again against the best.
Oliver Townend & Armada:
This might be one of Andrew Nicholson’s cast offs, but this is a serious machine. His showjumping has been hit and miss, but I wonder if Oliver has got to the bottom of that problem as he’s been clear so far this year. Also bear in mind Oliver was also a contender for the Rolex Grand Slam recently.
Mary King & Imperial Cavalier:
One of few horses I’d pay good money just to spend 5 minutes warming up. This horse carried Mary to her HSBC Classics win and I think it an archetypal Badminton winner.
Nicola Wilson & Opposition Buzz:
So many people have written this horse off an also ran, good at cross country but tricky to fine tune for the other phases – so always the anchor in championships. I think he’s improving with age, and eats Badmintons for breakfast.
Pippa Funnell & Redesigned:
This horse has such great presence, and whilst I don’t know anything about his return from injury, Pippa is a careful, shrewd rider these days. I reckon she’ll have little to lose by going for the big dressage scores and riding a classic round cross country. This is one rider you must watch out on the course. Her style and execution on cross country epitomises the excitement & spectacle the sport generates.
Tina Cook & Miners Frolic:
Can you really dismiss this horse from a list? Individual medal winner, back in form after illness, and absolutely made to measure for the job.
Laura Collett & Noble Bestman:
I know this isn’t necessarily an obvious first choice ride over Rayef, but I’d rate this horse over Rayef anyday, on a par in my books with the likes of Armada – a bit tricky to control, but a real machine when the stars align.
Others I think are well worth watching, and although the odds are slightly against them they will be right in contention for a placing:
Bettina Hoy & Lanfranco
Clark Montgomery & Universe
Rebecca Howard & Riddle Master
Francis Whittington & Easy Target
Izzy Taylor & KBIS Briarlands Matilda
Zara Phillips & High Kingdom.
Mark Todd (on anything he rides)
This year’s Badminton is unprecedented, and we will probably never see another Grand Slam double header in our lifetime. The entire line up includes almost all of the full cream our sport has to offer. It is the mother of all eventing competitions – a field of dreams.
I intend to spend the next few evenings getting in the swing of it by watching “60 years of Badminton” followed by Pippa Funnell’s Road To The Top & The Grand Slam, both available in HorseHub (shameless plug!)