New Zealand eventer Andrew Nicholson and Nereo produced the best test of their long and illustrious career together to take the lead after the first day of dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, fourth leg of the FEI Classics.
The Ground Jury, Christian Landolt, Sue Baxter and David Lee gave Nicholson the only sub-40 score, 37.8, to put him 3.4 penalties ahead of his compatriot Jock Paget, who scored 41.2 on 2013 winner Clifton Promise.
The youngest rider in the field, 20-year-old Niklas Bschorer (GER), who wasn’t even born when Nicholson’s Badminton career began in 1984, has made a stunning debut and is in third place on Tom Tom Go 3 with 42.1.
Flora Harris, a member of Britain’s World Class Performance Potential squad, is best of the home side in fourth place on the grey mare Amazing Vlll on 43.6, just ahead of four-time winner Sir Mark Todd (NZL) on the German-bred Leonidas ll, fifth. Pippa Funnell (GBR) is currently in sixth place on the upstanding chestnut Redesigned.
Nicholson’s empathetic 11-year partnership with the 15-year-old Nereo, owned by Libby Sellars, is one of the most enduring in the sport; the Spanish-bred chestnut gelding by the thoroughbred Fines is something of a “one-man horse” and a shy, polite character, “but is always on your side”.
“It’s the smoothest test he’s done,” Nicholson said. “He let me be quite bold on him and I just think today the test flowed more smoothly.
“Obviously it’s a major factor coming there with a horse I understand so fully and that’s a satisfying achievement in itself. He likes to work with you, and you know that he will go in the arena and not look around and will give you 100 per cent.”
Nicholson, 53, has won eight CCI4*s, including Pau in 2012 on Nereo, but victory at Badminton has, frustratingly, eluded him – the closest he came was second place on Lord Killinghurst in 2004 and third in 2013 on Nereo. “All my focus is on this,” he promised.
Paget has been competing the 17-year-old NZ thoroughbred Clifton Promise for eight years, and he agreed: “You do all the work, you train, train, train, and it is nice when you go in there and they do it for you. Every foot went where I wanted; he was a pleasure to ride.”
Bschorer, who moved to England aged 16 to work with the German team trainer Christopher Bartle at his Yorkshire Riding Centre, did not appear to be at all fazed by being in the limelight at his first Badminton.
After walking the cross-country with Bartle and his trainer Mark Todd, the young rider pronounced Giuseppe della Chiesa’s track to be: “More inviting than last year and very do-able.” He said that his mount, a 12-year-old Holsteiner, “is a very good jumper and has lots of scope”.
Todd slotted in to fifth place with Leonidas II despite an error of course down the final centre line.
“I was a bit keen to get stopped,” joked the 2010 winner, who halted two markers too early. “It was one of the best tests he’s done, though. The judges must be a bit like the weather – a bit down. He was very relaxed out there.”
Australia’s Sam Griffiths rode last year’s winner Paulank Brockagh to 13th on the leaderboard with 48.2. “There were a couple of mistakes that stopped us getting the really high marks. I don’t get the feeling the competition will pan out in quite the same way as last year, but I know that if we can finish on our dressage score we’ll be there or thereabouts,” he said.
Compatriot Paul Tapner is just ahead of Griffiths, in 10th place on Kilronan. He was a little disappointed with his test. “We didn’t nail the first halt, which made the judges grumpy. It took a while to encourage them to get back up to the higher marks, but he did some nice work.
“The score is 10 penalties more than I would have wanted so I’m disappointed about that, but when you piaffe in both the halts the marks are going to suffer a bit,” Tapner said.
There is still the second day of dressage to go, when the leaderboard will change again. The leaders will be challenged by leading German riders Bettina Hoy on Designer 10 and Ingrid Klimke on her Pau winner Horseware Hale Bob, while the home side boasts 2014 runner-up Oliver Townend on Armada, three-time winner Pippa Funnell on her other ride, Second Supreme, and William Fox-Pitt on the impressive stallion Chilli Morning.
Images below © Mike Bain
Results after first day of Dressage
1 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 37.8
2 Jock Paget/Clifton Promise (NZL) 41.2
3 Niklas Bschorer/Tom Tom Go 3 (GER) 42.1
4 Flora Harris/Amazing (GBR) 43.6
5 Sir Mark Todd/Leonidas ll (NZL) 45.8
6 Pippa Funnell/Redesigned (GBR) 46.0
7 Laura Collett/Grand Manoevre (GBR) 46.2
8 Nicola Wilson/One Two Many (GBR) 47.0
9 Mary King/Kings Temptress (GBR) 47.1
10 Christopher Burton/TS Jamaimo (AUS) 47.7