German riders are first and second after the cross-country phase at the Badminton Horse Trials, with New Zealand riders filling the next three placings.
Dressage leader Chris Burton and Graf Libery had a refusal on course, handing the lead to Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob, who are just 0.4 penalties ahead of compatriot and defending champions Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam, the only combination to finish on their dressage score.
Andrew Nicholson and Nereo, who were last on the course, moved up from fifth to third and they are only .8 behind the leaders – so there is only a rail in it for the top three.
Klimke and Nicholson had walked the course together, and she said she had hoped to do as well as Jung and Nicholson.
There was a moment of concern for Klimke as she was initially given 11 penalties for breaking a frangible pin on one of the upright gates near the end of the course, but these were removed when the Ground Jury reviewed the footage.
New course-designer Eric Winter’s track proved as influential as anticipated. Burton and Graf Liberty had a refusal at the third log element of the Hildon Water Pond (fence 15) to drop down to 19th place, and third-placed Irishman Jonty Evans (Cooley Rorkes Drift) was going brilliantly when he had a disappointing run-out at the second corner at fence 21. They are now in 25th place.
Fourth-placed Belgian rider Karin Donckers (Fletcha Van ‘T Verahof) and eighth-placed Bettina Hoy from Germany (Designer 10) both retired after refusals and, under the new FEI rule, Sam Griffiths (AUS), 11th on Paulank Brockagh was awarded 50 penalties for missing a flag.
There were 32 clear rounds and 49 finishers from the 81 starters. Only two were inside the time of 11 minutes 34 seconds: Jung and New Zealander Tim Price, who has leapt 30 places to fourth on Xavier Faer. Sir Mark Todd (NZL) has two horses inside the top 10, NZB Campino, fifth, and Leonidas, ninth.
The home crowd had little to cheer about after the dressage, but strong clears by British first-timers Ros Canter (Allstar B) and farrier Alexander Bragg (Zagreb) have moved them up significantly to sixth and eighth places; Oliver Townend shot up from 47th to sixth on ODT Ghareeb and Gemma Tattersall from 67th to 12th on the ex-racehorse Arctic Soul.
In 10th place is Japanese rider Yoshiaki Oiwa riding The Duke of Cavan, his Rio Olympic mount. They are on 58.2 penalties, just a whisker behind Todd’s Leonidas (58.1).
Ireland’s Clare Abbott and Irish Sport Horse Euro Prince produced one of the stand-out performances, climbing an incredible 40 places on the leaderboard and up to 11th place heading into the showjumping phase.
Abbott and the 14-year-old gelding came home with a clear jumping round and just fractionally over the optimum time, leaving them on a total score of 60.1. Another Co Down rider, Joseph Murphy, also made a huge jump on the leaderboard after he finished with just 9.2 time penalties with Sportsfield Athello (ISH), rising 57 places to 18th.
What the riders said
Ingrid Klimke (Hale Bob, 1st): “It was a difficult course – there certainly wasn’t time to wave to the crowd – but Bobby was so full of himself and was pure pleasure to ride.
“Bobby really deserved that, he was fantastic all the way round. Everything came up really quickly and he wanted to go so fast that it was pure fun.”
Michael Jung (Sam, 2nd): “I am always a bit nervous at the beginning of a big course but it is amazing to feel such trust from a horse. Sam started out quite strong and I didn’t have too much control but he understands me so well and is so quick. Our preparation hasn’t been ideal, Sam has only done one two-star, but he feels more powerful than ever and I am absolutely happy.”
Andrew Nicholson (Nereo, 3rd): “It rode big and technical out there and you had to work hard. You couldn’t be casual and lollop along. Perhaps it’s my age, but I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated so hard!
“I think at this level, at Badminton, everyone shouldn’t go clear. It should be difficult and that is what we want. You won’t stop people falling – that is the thing about eventing. They are riding horses. You get on and sometimes you fall off. You won’t ever stop that, it doesn’t matter what the jumps are.
“You need to keep it so the top horses concentrate and whoever wins will be the best. The best of the best were well and truly challenged today in a very good sporting way.
“Nereo relies on the back end to push his power through. The first time he slipped was at the footbridge which is a fence he’s not keen on, so when he slipped it actually took his mind off it.
“I knew when I’d finished that all his shoes were still on, but my groom has since told me that I lost a stud in the outside of a front shoe and two out of a back shoe. Nereo does slip a bit, he’s a big powerful horse and when the ground is dry with grass cover, he does tend to slip. It wasn’t a big problem, and probably only cost me a couple of seconds.”
Tim Price (Xavier Faer, 4th): “We had to fight for it from the very beginning. He is a fast horse and I have always believed in him. While he is green at this level he can really travel, so I have used that to our advantage and it was good fun. We have a good partnership and for me he is quite easy to ride because he makes good choices and presents himself to a fence well. I get to sit there and enjoy the ride.”
Mark Todd (Campino, 5th): “I think it was probably an advantage having gone on the first horse. This horse is very experienced, although he has only been here once before and dumped me on a fence. I trust him a lot and he was able to cruise along very comfortably. He is not super quick and a course like this, where you have got so many turns, doesn’t suit him. But he couldn’t have gone any faster or jumped any better, so I am delighted.”
Ros Canter (Allstar B, 6th): “I was prepared for another roller coaster day, but ‘Alby’ was foot perfect. After making small errors at Burghley a couple of times I had to go out believing we could do it. That’s why I played the safe route at one of the combinations – I was having such a good time and I didn’t want to mess up.”
Jonty Evans (Cooley Rorke’s Drift, 25th): “Sport’s all about confidence and I’m going to try and take some confidence from it. We made one little mistake, which was my fault, but we’re going home to reboot and aim for the Europeans.”
Blyth Tait (Bear Necessity V, retired): “It wasn’t my day out there. We were going great but my rein slipped at the second water, I lost my line, tried to salvage the alternative and apparently crossed my tracks. With the chance gone, I decided to save him for another day.”
Tomorrow’s jumping phase promises to be an absolute thriller with 0.8 of a penalty separating three greats in the sport. The action starts at 11.30am local time.