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For the second time in a week, Michael Jung showed exactly why he is world No.1, producing an outstanding display of sympathetic horsemanship to retain his lead after the cross-country phase at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, fourth leg of the FEI Classics 2015/2016.
He has a wonderfully trusting partnership with La Biosthetique Sam FBW and the pair gave a masterclass in bold, accurate jumping and galloping over what was to prove an influential course.
The Olympic champion now has two jumping fences in hand, not only to win Badminton for the first time, but also the $US350,000 Rolex Grand Slam following victories at Burghley 2015 and Kentucky last weekend. Just one jump rail separates second to 11th place.
“Wow,” was Jung’s initial reaction. “It was an amazing feeling. Sam is so beautiful to ride. I had many options in my head in case I didn’t get a good jump anywhere, but Sam was so powerful and strong and knew what he had to do. I am so proud of him.”
Andreas Ostholt, who is celebrating his first clear cross-country at Badminton, made it a German one-two at the top of the leaderboard after collecting 5.2 time penalties on So Is Et. “What a lovely pony,” he said elatedly.
“I am not disappointed with my time penalties. I wanted to complete so I went quite steadily to begin with, but the horse was really fresh in the end and I am very happy with my result,” he said.
“For sure I had a hairy moment at the Vicarage Vee – I was sitting on top thinking “not today, not today, not today!”, I’m getting old, but luckily not too old and managed to stay on my horse! I tried not to be too fast and not too quick. In the end I am one of the happiest man of the day,” Ostholt said.
With an optimum time of 11 minutes 58 seconds, it was a long and challenging course by Giuseppe Della Chiesa with 45 jumping efforts over 6500m.
It was a day of mixed fortunes for British riders, but Gemma Tattersall gave the huge crowd plenty to cheer about with her thrilling performance on the classy thoroughbred Arctic Soul. She has moved up 13 places to third, a career best at CCI4* level, after finishing inside the optimum time of 11 minutes 58 seconds.
“He skips over the fences and is like a racehorse to ride,” said Tattersall, 31, who is hoping to secure her first place on a senior British team.
“I actually laughed after the Vicarage Vee [fence 21, the most influential obstacle] because he was so amazing and then had to remember to concentrate. It’s everyone’s dream to get to an Olympics and I’m going to give it my best shot,” she said.
“Today was awesome – amazing! I have been wanting to be here at Badminton [in the top 3] all my life. Arctic Soul is a really good show jumper – he does get a little nervous with the crowds so I’ve just got to keep him calm and try my best to jump a clear round, but hey – he’s been incredible in the first two phases and I am incredibly proud of him.”
New Zealand’s Mark Todd, a four-time Badminton winner and dual Olympic gold medalist, showed all his experience when surviving a dramatic near unseating from Leonidas ll at the Shogun Hollow (fence 23). The horse twisted over the second curving brush and pitched Todd right out of the saddle, but a combination of long legs and determination got him back in place and the pair galloped on to complete a clear inside the time to move into fourth place.
“It was an amazing ride, but I did have a couple of lives,” admitted Todd, who is aiming for a seventh Olympics. “The horse is so brave and does tend to over-jump, but it shows that he wants to do the job. He travelled very easily.”
His fellow New Zealanders, Jock Paget (Clifton Lush) and Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation), are in fifth and sixth places ahead of speedy Frenchman Astier Nicolas on the aptly named Quickly du Buguet, seventh. Fellow French rider Gwendolen Fer is 10th on Romantic Love and, in a good day for the French, the much-respected veteran Jean Teulere, 62, is 12th on Matelot du Grand Val.
Britain’s Oliver Townend retired Black Tie, eighth after dressage, after a refusal near the end of the course, but he proved an inspired pathfinder on the 17-year-old Armada. The athletic chestnut who looks as if he is just stepping over the fences, made a spectacular sight as he strode towards the finish, and the pair rose 16 places to eighth.
This will be the horse’s last Badminton. “I’m so pleased that this is the way people will remember him. We’ll have to find something for him to do, though. He jumps out of his field when he’s bored and he’s not much fun as a hack!”
Britain’s Izzy Taylor was the first of 13 riders to fault at the Vicarage Vee (fence 21), a historic bogey fence at Badminton, and retired KBIS Briarlands Matilda, but she is in ninth place on CCI4* first-timer Allercombe Ellie with six time penalties.
Forty-eight of the 75 cross-country starters finished, with 32 clear rounds, 11 of them inside the optimum time.
The experienced Kristina Cook rose 28 places to 14th on Star Witness, a thoroughbred bought as a three-year-old at Doncaster bloodstock sales. They had the fastest time of the day, an impressive 54 seconds under.
“I’m 45 years old and have been riding here for 20, and it still means so much,” said Cook, a triple Olympic medalist. “But this morning I did wonder why, as a middle-aged mother, I wasn’t watching it on television!”
There was a tearful end to Emily King’s Badminton debut when the 20-year-old dressage runner-up, who was earning praise from the commentators for her dream ride on Brookleigh, had a fall at the penultimate fence, the double of logs at the Rolex Crossing. The horse tried to fit in an extra stride, got too close to the second log and abruptly sat down, tipping off King in the process. It was in the exact same place that her mother, Mary, exited the competition eight years ago after falling from Imperial Cavalier.
World No.2 Christopher Burton (AUS), fifth after dressage, was also going beautifully when he had a fall with Nobilis 18 at the Shogun Hollow.
The 2014 winners Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh ran past the final element of the Swindon Designer Outlet Mound (fence 12).
Dani Evans (GBR), equal sixth after dressage on Raphael ll, fell at the Vicarage Vee, as did Boyd Martin (Cracker Jack, USA), New Zealanders Lucy Jackson (Bosun) and Tim Price (Ringwood Sky Boy). Price’s wife fared much better and is now in 11th place on Classic Moet.
At the end of an exciting day, the overnight leader appeared to be keeping a cool head, and wasn’t ruling out a few celebratory beers. “I will treat it like any other day and hope it goes well,” he said.
Images below © Mike Bain
Additional reporting: Rod Kohler, Diana Dobson
Results after Cross Country
1 Michael Jung/La Biosthetique Sam FBW (GER) 34.4 + 0 = 34.4 penalties
2 Andreas Ostholt/So Is Et (GER) 38.2 + 5.2 = 43.4
3 Gemma Tattersall/Arctic Soul (GBR) 44.6 + 0 = 44.6
4 Sir Mark Todd/Leonidas ll (NZL) 44.8 + 0 = 44.8
5 Jock Paget/Clifton Lush (NZL) 45.2 + 0 = 45.2
6 Clarke Johnstone/Balmoral Sensation (NZL) 40.8 + 4.8 = 45.6
7 Astier Nicolas/Quickly de Buguet (FRA) 45.9 + 0 = 45.9
8 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 46.2 + 0 = 46.2
9 Izzy Taylor/Allercombe Ellie (GBR) 40.4 + 6 = 46.4
10 Gwendolen Fer/Romantic Love (FRA) 47.1 + 0 = 47.1