US rider Clark Montgomery swept to the lead on Loughan Glen on the second day of dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials on Friday.
Posting a score of 33.5 penalties, Montgomery, 32, and Loughan Glen’s test was supremely accurate and a model of balance, consistency and harmony despite the wind that battered the Gloucestershire event all day.
The combination now has a lead of 2.5 penalties over Australia’s Paul Tapner and Kilronan.
Badminton is the fourth leg of the keenly fought FEI Classics series, which also includes Kentucky, Burghley and Pau.
Francis Whittington, the highest placed of the home side, is in third place on Easy Target, just 0.2 penalties behind Tapner.
Montgomery is based in England, just down the road from Badminton with CCI4* judge Christian Landolt (SUI). “The horse has put in some good marks before and I knew he was capable of this standard if all went well,” said Montgomery of the Limerick-sired bay gelding on whom he finished third at Blenheim CCI3* (GBR) last year.
“He felt amazing. I knew he was capable of producing that sort of test, but it’s the first time he’s performed in front of a crowd like that. He loves an atmosphere and he really perked up in there. We made two little mistakes – he got a bit stuck in the mud after the the extended canter and changed behind, and then became a bit stuck again in one of the shoulder-ins, but otherwise it all went to plan,” he said.
“He should like the cross-country course,” added Montgomery. “He likes to be ridden forward and hopefully he will cope with the step up, although I don’t know yet whether the [optimum] time will be an issue for him.”
The three top-placed horses are all Irish-bred, which may be an advantage if the rain which is forecast to fall overnight materialises. “The ground will definitely suit my horse and I’ll be quite happy if it keeps on raining!” Tapner said.
Lucinda Fredericks (AUS), who scored the only other sub-40 mark, is now fourth on Flying Finish, just ahead of Mark Todd (NZL), the oldest rider in the field (at 58) and the only one to have two horses in the top 10. The four-time Badminton winner is equal fifth on NZB Campino and equal ninth on the 10-year-old Leonidas ll.
Six nations are represented in the top 10. Olympic silver medallist Sara Algotsson-Ostholt (SWE), who is paying her first visit to Badminton, is in equal fifth place with Todd on 40.5 with Reality 39 (formerly called Mrs Medicott), on whom she won a team silver medal at last year’s FEI European Eventing Championships.
William Fox-Pitt (GBR) was a happier man after scoring 41.0 on Parklane Hawk, leaving him in equal seventh place with Andrew Nicholson (NZL) on Nereo. His first ride, Cool Mountain, disappointed and is in equal 57th place.
Danish rider Peter Flarup made a great start to his first Badminton and is in equal ninth with a score of 41.8 on the Danish warmblood mare Callista E, on whom he was 12th at Boekelo CCI3* (NED) last year. Flarup, who has been riding at championship level since 1997, had his best CCI4* result at Pau in 2010 on Silver Ray.
Nearly half the field of 83 scored under 40 penalties in the dressage.
The big news for riders is that the middle element of fence 18abc, a trio of logs on an S-bend which was proving a hot topic, has been removed. This would have involved a sharp right-hand turn at the foot of a mound, and the organisers decided that the heavy rain that is forecast might make the turn slippery.
“He can sometimes get a little fractious but he actually behaved very well in there,” he said. “We fluffed up one change which was annoying, but other than that, I feel he did very well..”
Todd is looking forward to the cross country, which is causing plenty of talk among riders and spectators alike.
“Leonidas is a very bold horse and a very good jumper … he is very scopey, but this is his first four star. I am hoping the predicted rain doesn’t come because I think the horses at the end will find the going that much more difficult.”
Nicholson is also champing to get out on the new course.
“The cross country is why we come here,” he says. “I am a bit surprised they have taken (the cross country jump) out so quickly, but I gather other riders didn’t like it. Riders were asking for difficulty and suddenly they are giving it … for sure (the jump) wasn’t easy.”
Jonelle Price, who is in 14th place on The Deputy, was happy to get the dressage out of the way. “Now we can get on with the really interesting stuff!” she said, adding that her horse had performed well in the dressage.
“He was great. He has been improving steadily for the past 12 months and looked a better horse this year. On paper the cross country should suit him – he is a big, scopey relentless galloper and really comes into his own at three day events that have long galloping straits.”
She said the cross-country course was “certainly a big step up from last year. You have to be careful what you wish for – this is what we all wished for and we got it. I think it is up to us now to go and do a good job … hopefully the rain doesn’t cause too much havoc!”
Mary King (GBR), who first competed at Badminton in 1985, said: “I thought it was a great fence and well-designed, but I can see why the decision has been made.”
King, who first won Badminton in the very wet year of 1992, produced her best Badminton test on the ebullient 17-year-old Imperial Cavalier, on whom she was third in 2011 and fourth in 2010. She earned the loudest cheers of the day and is now in 12th place on 42.8.
Her performance was marred only by an error of course in the extended canter. “I’m over the moon with him,” she declared. “It’s the best test he’s ever done here. He was so rideable. I was enjoying it so much that I then managed to go wrong.”
Kristina Cook (GBR), who has been competing at Badminton for more than 20 years and is in 23rd place with a mark of 45.8 on her home-bred De Novo News, pronounced the cross-country course to be “super”.
She said: “It’s bigger and wider, very much a Badminton course to give us sleepless nights. They’ve done everything they can with the ground and there’s a great grass cover. You’ve got to be bold and brave and keep pushing, and the riders that can achieve that will do the best.”
Images below © Mike Bain
Results after Dressage
1 Clark Montgomery/Loughan Glen (USA) 33.5 penalties
2 Paul Tapner/Kilronan (AUS) 36.0
3 Francis Whittington/Easy Target (GBR) 36.2
4 Lucinda Fredericks/Flying Finish (AUS) 39.0
5 = Mark Todd/NZB Campino (NZL) 40.5
5= Sara Algotsson-Ostholt/Reality 39 (SWE) 40.5
7 = William Fox-Pitt/Parklane Hawk (GBR) 41.0
7 = Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 41.0
9 = Peter Flarup/Callista E (DEN) 41.8
9 = Mark Todd/Leonidas ll (NZL) 41.8
Additional reporting: Diana Dobson