After 37 attempts, the one that has eluded six-time Olympian Andrew Nicholson finally went his way, with Nereo jumping a clear round to take the Badminton Horse Trials trophy.
Germany’s Michael Jung and Sam secured second after dropping a rail but lead the FEI Classics series, and Nicholson’s compatriot Tim Price moved up the rankings on Xavier Faer to take third, with fellow Kiwi Mark Todd in fourth (Campino) and sixth (Leonidas)
Fellow competitors erupted in spontaneous cheering as Andrew Nicholson, 55, at last won Badminton, after a record 37 attempts over 33 years. Nicholson and Nereo’s owner Libby Sellar receiving a standing ovation when they came forward to receive the winner’s trophy.
“Of course I knew I would win Badminton one day – I just didn’t know when!” Nicholson said.
“Nereo is a truly amazing horse. The amount of big events he’s done year after year is unbelievable. I always thought I would win Badminton, and I’ve just had to keep on coming here and taking my turn. It’s been worth the wait. I’ve won big events before but this just feels so different,” he said.
It was a jumping finale full of surprises as Nicholson, third after cross-country, pulled off a stunning clear round on the 17-year-old Nereo to leave the two German Olympians ahead of him – Michael Jung and overnight leader Ingrid Klimke – no room for manoeuvre.
Jung’s La Biosthetique Sam, also a veteran 17-year-old, hit the back rail of the sixth fence, so the defending champion had to settle for the runner-up spot.
Then, to gasps from the crowd, Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob hit the same fence and Klimke’s problems were compounded with a refusal at the treble, which dropped her to ninth.
“I’m a bit unhappy about the mistake and it was, for sure, my mistake, but Sam has been superb all weekend,” Jung said.
Price, along with Mark Todd with both his horses, NZB Campino and Leonidas ll, capitalised on clear jumping rounds and moved up to third, fourth and sixth.
Nicholson first rode at Badminton in 1984; he has since completed more times than any other rider, and has finished second, on Lord Killinghurst in 2004, and third, on Libby Sellar’s Spanish-bred chestnut gelding Nereo in 2013. He was in the lead on Nereo in 2015, but it all went wrong in the final phase.
His win is even more of a fairytale considering he broke his neck in a fall 18 months ago – the prospect of competing Avebury, his three-time Burghley winner, and Nereo was, he says, a strong motivation during his recovery.
Nicholson has had Nereo since he was a four-year-old, and the chestnut has always been one of his favourites. He says it was thanks to Nereo and Avebury that he got back in the saddle after his neck injury.
“I’ve been in all sorts of places at Badminton and not won, so it has been hard, but I am lucky that I’ve been able to keep the dream alive and keep coming back,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson was also 12th on Qwanza, after starting out 64th after the dressage. Qwanza also won the prize for the best-finishing mare.
Third-placed Tim Price is predicting a good season ahead. “Xavier Faer has been a bit spooky and quirky on the way through and the majority of time I have had him, his quirks have got in the way,” he said.
“I am very relieved to start the year with a result like this. I feel a bit of a load has been lifted off me. Badminton is the most amazing place to come to. It is a privilege to be here. The way he has gone for me this time has set me up for the rest of the season I believe. There are good things to come and I am very excited about this horse.”
Todd was pleased with the efforts of both his horses who were clear and inside time in the showjumping.
“They both came out today and have done very well,” he said. “I am delighted. There is nothing quite like Badminton. I would have liked to be a bit nearer the front, but I can’t complain with two horses in the top 10. We are up against some of the best in the world here and if you can be up there with them, it is amazing.”
There was a new British name in fifth place, 31-year-old Rosalind Canter, who had a superb Badminton debut on Allstar B. Gemma Tattersall was delighted to jump clear for sixth place on Arctic Soul and Kristina Cook was at her vintage best in 10th place on Billy the Red.
Completing the international flavour was Japanese rider Yoshiaki Oiwa, whose long-term aim of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will have been enhanced by eighth place on The Duke of Cavan.
Three Irish riders, all riding Irish Sport Horses, have finished inside the top 20 with Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello best in 13th place, one spot ahead of Clare Abbott and Euro Prince in 14th, while Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift took 20th place overall.
Murphy and Sportsfield Othello were awarded the Glentrool Trophy, as the Horse and Rider who made the greatest improvement on their dressage placing. They rose an incredible 62 places having been 75th after dressage to jump clear cross country and show jumping to take 13th place overall on a score of 68.0.
A total of 46 completed the competition with 20 clear jumping rounds. There was disappointment for the British when Alexander Bragg’s Zagreb, eighth after a great cross-country, was withdrawn from the holding box at the final horse inspection.
Technical Delegate Alec Lochore said US rider Elisa Wallace was interviewed by the Ground Jury and sanctioned with a yellow card under article 526.1 – Abuse of the Horse, following her fall at the last fence from Simply Priceless. Neither horse nor rider were injured in this fall. “I’m disappointed in myself for letting down my horse, my country, and my sport. I should have pulled him up. And I agree with the Ground Jury giving me a yellow card,” Wallace said later. “I made a mistake that I will never make again. I am lucky we are both unscathed. Johnny gave me everything today. I love my horse and my sport.”
Badminton’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Sue Smith said Emily Gilruth remains in intensive care at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, undergoing treatment and further investigation, following her fall on cross-country day.