In a dramatic finale to this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, Piggy French wrested the sport’s most coveted title from the grasp of long-time favourite Oliver Townend in dramatic style.
In the pressure cauldron of Badminton’s main arena, French, so often the bridesmaid at the highest level and lying second overnight on Irish Sport Horse Vanir Kamira, jumped a superb clear to turn the tables on the overnight leader when he used up his quota of lives.
In another incredible result for Irish breeding, Irish Sport Horses filled all of the top six places and eight of the top 10 spots on the final leaderboard.
Townend, the winner in 2009 on Flint Curtis, could afford one rail down and three time penalties with Ballaghmor Class, but when a late rail fell and the clock stopped four seconds over the optimum, he was left shaking his head in disbelief as he realised his chances had been dashed.
This was French’s 25th attempt at winning an event at the highest (five star) level and she was visibly emotional as she realised she had finally laid claim to a crown of her own.
“I’m still numb and find it hard to communicate in words what I’m feeling,” she said. “I’ve got so used to congratulating everyone else that I can’t quite believe it. And to be fair to Oliver – he’s very hard to get in front of.”
Asked whether she had dreamt of this moment, French, 38, said: “When I woke up this morning I thought I might have a chance, but when I walked the course I thought I’d have no chance. I thought it was one of the most difficult showjumping tracks I’ve ridden and although Vanir Kamira is a real trier she’s not naturally talented in this phase. She’s better on a twisty course rather than having to deal with too many related distances.”
Townend, who also finished sixth with Cillnabradden Evo, was gracious in defeat.
“First of all I’d like to congratulate Piggy,” he said afterward. “It’s an unbelievable achievement, especially on a horse she wouldn’t necessarily have expected it on.”
Of his round, he added: “When he [Ballaghmor Class] hung towards the gate I had to chase him over the planks and that meant I had to strangle him a bit to the double and again to the next upright, which he had down. I ended up adding two more strides overall than I would have liked and that cost me time and, ultimately, the title.”
Australia’s Christopher Burton finished third with Cooley Lands. The gelding had been lying in fifth place going into the final phase behind his stablemate, Graf Liberty, but when the latter slid into the water tray and then clocked up two penalties, Cooley Lands hopped up the order.
“Cooley Lands is a real trier and I’ve always loved him,” Burton said. “I’ve never had much luck at Badminton before, so I’m rather stoked with the way this week has gone. I kept telling myself in the lead-up that it was ‘just another event’, but as soon as you arrive here you realise that it really does matter as it’s the biggest event in the world.”
Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs lowered two poles to drop from fourth to fifth. “He just went a bit green and showed his inexperience,” Nicholson said.
Tina Cook (Billy The Red) and Imogen Murray (Ivar Gooden) both jumped immaculate clear rounds to finish seventh and eighth, and William Fox-Pitt (Little Fire) and Tim Price (Ringwood Sky Boy) rounded off the top 10.
Butler Bowl ~ for the highest placed British rider: Piggy French
Laurence Rook Trophy ~ best British rider not previously completed Badminton: Nicky Hill
Worshipful Company of Saddlers saddle ~ Rider with the best score who is under 25 on 1/1/20 and who has not previously won a Company saddle in the calendar year: Alicia Hawker and Charles RR
Silver Jubilee Plate ~ best Owner/Rider: Nicky Hill
Glentrool Trophy ~ Horse & Rider who have made greatest improvement on their dressage placing: Imogen Murray & Ivar Gooden (who also won this trophy in 2018)
Frank Weldon Memorial Trophy ~ Rider of youngest British owned and ridden horse in top 12: William Fox-Pitt for the 10-year-old Little Fire
Cotswold Life Trophy ~ Local rider’s trophy: Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy
The William Miflin Memorial Trophy ~ To the rider of the horse with no cross-country jumping penalties and closest optimum time: Chris Burton for Graf Liberty
Retraining of Racehorses £1000 ~ The highest placed former racehorse which must have been raced under the rules of a recognised racing authority worldwide: Won’t Wait, ridden by France’s Clara Loiseau
Farriers Prize ~ plaque to the owner and farrier of the best-shod horse: Antony Marris for Izzy Taylor and owners Tom & Sara Strong with the horse Call Me Maggie May.
Stud Voucher £500 ~ owner of the highest placed British owned mare: Trevor Dickens for Vanir Kamira
Mark Holliday Memorial Trophy ~ Groom of winner: Amy Phillips for Vanir Kamira
David Beaufort Memorial Trophy ~ to the person who has contributed to the running of the Horse Trials over many years: Cross Country controller for many years, and now supervisor of the Prize Givings, George Weldon
Embryo Transfer ~ to the highest placed British bred or domiciled mare to be in the top 20%, courtesy of Tomlinson Equine: Vanir Kamira
Breeder of the winner ~ Kathryn Jackson
Armada Dishes: Jonelle Price, Michael Jung, Sir Mark Todd, Gemma Tattersall, Harry Meade, Tom McEwen, Caroline Powell.