All 78 horses presented at the trot-up for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials will start the dressage phase, which gets under way at the famous event on Thursday.
There is always an extra frisson of excitement surrounding Badminton, the fourth leg of the FEI Classics series, in an Olympic year, and 2016 will be no exception as the historic event has received an exceptionally star-studded entry from 14 nations.
As Event Director Hugh Thomas says: “No rider ever got left off an Olympic team for winning Badminton!”
In modern times, Olympic champions Mark Todd, Matt Ryan, Blyth Tait, David O’Connor, Leslie Law, and Hinrich Romeike, along with many other Olympic medalists had all won, or been highly placed, at the world’s oldest CCI4*.
At Wednesday’s trot-up all eyes were on German superstar Michael Jung and his 2015 Burghley winner La Biosthetique Sam. Jung, the reigning Olympic champion and current FEI Classics 2015/2016 leader, is fresh from his back-to-back victory on FischerRocana in Kentucky last weekend, and is bidding for the elusive Rolex Grand Slam hat-trick.
His compatriot Bettina Hoy (Designer 10) has been going brilliantly on the British circuit this spring and Andreas Ostholt (So Is Et) and Andreas Dibowski (FRH Butts Avedon) also have winning credentials for Badminton.
In many people’s eyes, however, Jung’s fiercest challenge in Badminton looks likely to come from ‘Down Under’ in the shape of New Zealand’s supremely talented ‘first couple’, Tim and Jonelle Price (Ringwood Sky Boy and Classic Moet), or the stylish Christopher Burton with Nobilis 18. The Australian rider did not bring Haruzac forward for the inspection.
This year’s field ranges from the experience of 62-year-old former world champion Jean Teulère (France), with Matelot du Val, and 60-year-old Sir Mark Todd (Leonidas ll), bidding for his seventh Olympic appearance at Rio, to first-timers, including Danish amateur rider Hanne Wind Ramsgaard (Vestervangs Arami) who works full-time in the renewable energy business, and 20-year-old Emily King (Brookleigh), the youngest competitor entered and daughter of six-time Olympian Mary King.
Teulere narrowly avoided an incident when a part of Matelot du Grand Val’s bridle came apart as they trotted up the ‘runway’. Fortunately the horse behaved impeccably and the wayward strap was re-attached.
Tom Crisp had to re-trot Cooleys Luxury twice before being passed, while Simon Grieve’s Cornacrew also had to re-present, as did Jonelle Price’s Classic Moet.
New Zealand’s Blyth Tait (Bear Necessity V) is back at Badminton for the first time in 13 years – he has finished runner-up here three times – and leading US rider Boyd Martin (Cracker Jack) makes his first visit.
Zara Tindall, another former world champion and on the bronze medal winning team at London 2012, will be trying to return to the British team for Rio with High Kingdom, who spent last season on the sidelines after sustaining an injury at Kentucky.
She will face strong competition for a team place in Rio from fellow British riders Izzy Taylor, Gemma Tattersall, Nicola Wilson, Laura Collett, Kristina Cook and Oliver Townend, and the home crowd especially will be willing Alice Dunsdon to finish on Fernhill Present – if they do so, Dunsdon will be the first rider to complete the world’s six CCI4*s on the same horse.
Oliver Townend is first into the dressage arena at 9am on Thursday.
FEI Classics 2015/2016 Leaderboard (after 3 of 6 events)
1 Michael Jung (GER) 27 points
2 Astier Nicolas (FRA) 15
3 Shane Rose (AUS) 15
4 Lauren Kieffer (USA) 12
5 Maya Black (USA) 10
6 Tim Price (NZL) 10
7 Clarke Johnstone (NZL) 10
8 Phillip Dutton (USA) 8
9 Emily King (GBR) 8
10 Sonja Johnston (AUS) 8