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Mark Todd wins Badminton Horse Trials

April 26, 2011

New Zealand's eventing comeback kid Mark Todd won his fourth Badminton Horse Trials title overnight, fulfilling the rider's aim of capturing "another big one".

Mine! Mark Todd punches the air after his winning clear round on Land Vision at Badminton. © Mike Bain
Mark Todd interview
"Thirty-one years' experience comes in handy sometimes!" joked the ever-relaxed Todd, whose mount NZB Land Vision had never experienced the rarefied CCI4* atmosphere before.

"It is incredibly special, though, right up there with the back-to-back Olympic golds. When I came back to the sport (in 2008) it was to see if I could get back to top level. It has always been my aim to win another big one."

Long acknowledged as the one of the world's best horsemen, Todd is also the oldest winner of Badminton (after Andrew Hoy) by an astonishing eight years; he has matched Mark Phillips' record of four Badminton victories (only Lucinda Green has more, six) and has achieved this major victory after just three years back in the sport after an eight-year "retirement".

The 56 finishers produced 20 jumping clears between them on Claire Fourgacs' straightforward track, but it inevitably becomes much harder to achieve as the pressure mounts, and it would be hard to think of a more high-pressure finale than this one, in which the price of a fence covered the top 12 riders.

Todd was full of praise for Land Vision who he rates as as good as any other he has had. "We gave that first fence a little nudge and that woke both of us up," he said.

"I had a good feeling about this competition and for some reason always felt this was mine to have this year.

"It is like a fairy tale," he said. "When you come back, you hope you can get back to the level you have been at but to actually come out on a horse at his first four-star start and beat such a strong field is just amazing."

Caroline Powell (NZL), lying 10th after cross-country, was first to apply the pressure with a sparkling clear on her 18-year-old Burghley winner Lenamore and this ultimately pulled her up to sixth place.

Sweden's Niklas Lindback, fifth on the much-admired Mister Pooh followed suit, as did Sam Griffiths (AUS) on Happy Times, fourth, and Mary King on Imperial Cavalier (third). Piggy French (GBR) showed the cool head that won her a European silver medal in 2009 and jumped clear on Jakata to score her best four-star result.

But they could only watch nervously as the atmosphere reached fever pitch and the stakes rose higher. The next three riders all faulted: Andrew Nicholson (NZL) on Nereo had two down and dropped to 12th below his other ride, 10th placed Avebury; Nicola Wilson (GBR) slipped four places to seventh on Opposition Buzz, and Marina Köhncke (GER) suffered the disappointment of having the final fence down on Calma Schelly, plus two time faults, which relegated her to ninth.

Land Vision was a tired horse at the end of cross-country, but he looked supple and athletic as he jumped around cleanly, only giving one fence a rattle. "In the end it came down to horse-power, and I've obviously got a good one here," said Todd.

"Charisma (his double Olympic gold medallist) will always be the most special horse, but this one has no weak links," Todd said of the 10-year-old son of Broadstone Landmark, a predominantly holsteiner-bred Danish warmblood.

Land Vision won the Young Horse CIC3* at Blenheim and was second at Boekelo CCI3* last year.

"This horse has a whole lot more in him too - he's been a winner from the word go and I have always thought an awful lot of him," Todd said.

Todd first came to international prominence at the 1978 World Championships. He then arrived in Britain in 1980 with Southern Comfort, accompanied by Andrew Nicholson as groom, and won Badminton at his first attempt. He won again in 1994 on a chance ride, Horton Point, and in 1996 on Bertie Blunt. He has also won Burghley five times, in 1997 on Wilton Fair, in 1990 on Face the Music, in 1991 on Welton Greylag, in 1997 (taking the Open European title) on Broadcast News and in 1999 on Diamond Hall Red.

He won back-to-back Olympic titles in 1984 and 1988 on Charisma and won world team gold and individual silver on Broadcast News in 1998. In 2000, after winning an individual bronze at the Sydney Olympics on Eye Spy, he retired to train racehorses. But he returned to Britain in 2008 to campaign for the 2008 Olympics, where he finished 18th on Gandalf. Last year Todd was part of the New Zealand team that won bronze at the World Equestrian Games.

He is now based near Newbury, Berkshire, and is now looking to the London Olympics.

New Zealand eventing high performance coach Erik Duvander said the win was incredible for both Todd and New Zealand sport.

"To do what he did before he retired and then come back and win again is just amazing. He rode the whole competition with a lot of confidence in his horse, who is still just a young horse and one I think we will see excel even more in time to come."

Duvander praised the efforts of the other Kiwis too, saying Powell had been outstanding on Lenamore and her young horse Boston Two Tip, who finished 31st, had stepped up well.

It had been unfortunate for Andrew Nicholson and Nereo, to have had two rails in the showjumping. "This is a horse who is a very good showjumper and has had maybe just a rail in his life."

Looking forward, Duvander says New Zealand has a great future in eventing, especially considering Nereo, Avebury and Land Vision were all young horses and there were rising stars Jonathan Paget and Clarke Johnstone waiting in the wings.

"We've still got a lot of hard work to be done before London but everyone is noticing that the New Zealanders are tracking it," he said.

"People from all nations are talking about the New Zealanders."

In a good day for mature riders, third-placed Mary King, 49, who said "Badminton is the reason I'm still competing", revealed that Piggy French, a mere 30 years old, used to send her fan mail. "And she's still got my letters back in her bedside table! But it'll be me writing to her now."

"Finishing in the top three at Badminton has been my dream," confessed French. "I didn't feel too nervous and felt that what will be will be. I just wanted to do my best. I didn't think the course was that tricky when I walked it, but that's what can make it much harder. You just had to stay focused."

Now, Todd is also looking to consolidate his early lead in the HSBC FEI Classics and flies to Kentucky today, where he will be riding his world bronze medal ride NZB Grass Valley. King is also aiming to collect more points and is taking two horses, Kings Temptress and Fernhill Urco.

Mark Todd and Land Vision on their way to victory.

Mark Todd with Princess Haya at the prizegiving.

Fiona Hobby (GBR), 39, who moved up 18 places to finish 26th on the grey mare Roma ML, won the $1000 HSBC Training Bursary as the best first-time four-star finisher. "I'm definitely going to spend it on dressage," she said. "Roma couldn't believe it when she arrived in the arena and saw all those people, but she was great across country, really focused. I'm delighted."

Hobby runs a schooling yard in Wiltshire and is a qualified sports injury therapist. Her previous attempt at Badminton, in 2003, on Le Chef, ended when the horse was withdrawn after cross-country. Roma ML is a Holsteiner, by Bazar, bred in Germany but bought from Ireland. The pair finished seventh at Blenheim CCI3* last year. Hobby, who is married with two children, is from a jumping background - her sister, Tina Fletcher, is a member of Britain's Nations Cup teams - and she was National Junior Champion twice.

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