Lausanne, May 01, 2013: The scene is set for the most thrilling running yet of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR) (3-6 May), fourth leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™ 2012/2013, and a showdown between two riders who are at the height of their powers.
Andrew Nicholson (NZL), current HSBC Rankings leader and holding a 10-point-lead in the HSBC FEI Classics™ standings, scored a stunning victory over William Fox-Pitt (GBR) at Kentucky last weekend.
The two riders, who finished first and second in the 2012 HSBC Rankings, are at the peak of their careers, with the strongest strings of horses they’ve ever had. Between them, their four Badminton horses have won five CCI4*s, and they have set up a fascinating head-to-head for the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing.
Fox-Pitt, who has won 11 CCI4*s, including Badminton in 2004, will ride Parklane Hawk, winner of Burghley in 2011 and Kentucky in 2012, and Oslo, who topped the line-up at Pau in 2011. Nicholson, who has five CCI4* victories to his name, competes on Nereo, winner of Pau 2012, and Avebury, first at Burghley last year.
“This is a dream scenario for Badminton,” said Fox-Pitt. “It’s going to be really exciting, although at the end of the day it’ll probably be neither of us winning – hello, Michael Jung! So many things have to come right to win any three-day event. But we’ve both got lovely horses and we’ve both had a great preparation for Badminton, so we’ll see.”
Badminton has received an exceptionally star-studded entry this year, and, as Fox-Pitt mentions, it is Michael Jung (GER), the reigning Olympic, World and European champion, who will undoubtedly start favourite on his best horse, La Biosthetique Sam. He also has a strong back-up in first ride Leopin, third at Pau in 2012.
The unassuming Jung first visited Badminton as a youngster, and has wanted to ride here ever since, but his only public appearances in Britain have both been at Greenwich Park – at the Test Event and last year’s Olympic Games where he won team and individual gold. As a result, many British spectators have never seen him ride, so they will be in for a treat when they see the master at work. Interestingly, no first-timer has won at Badminton since Mark Todd (NZL) in 1980 – could Jung, with his impressive credentials, break this record?
Jung’s Olympic team mates also have the credentials to win – individual bronze medallist Sandra Auffarth (Opgun Louvo), Dirk Schrade (King Artus) and Ingrid Klimke (Butts Abraxxas).
Fox-Pitt’s fellow Olympic team members Mary King (Imperial Cavalier and Kings Temptress), Kristina Cook (Miners Frolic and De Novo News) and Zara Phillips (High Kingdom) should also feature in what promises to be a highly international line-up, and much interest will follow the reappearance of Redesigned, fifth at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™, with Pippa Funnell.
Since Badminton began 64 years ago in 1949, British riders have dominated. However, this year’s contest is wide open. Two rising stars from the Antipodes are Jock Paget (NZL) with Clifton Promise, second at Pau, and Clifton Lush, and Chris Burton (AUS) on Holstein Park Leilani.
Ireland’s Aoife Sisk is sure to go well on Master Crusoe, seventh at the London Olympic Games, and Italy has two stars in Stefano Brecciaroli (Apollo VD Wendi Kurt Hoeve) and Vittoria Panizzon on the bouncing grey mare, Borough Pennyz.
There are six former winners in the field, headed by 57-year-old Sir Mark Todd (NZL), the defending champion who first won Badminton 33 years ago, following up with victories in 1994, 1996 and 2011. He rides Major Milestone and Ravenstar, the latter for Irish rider Jayne Doherty, who is pregnant.
The other previous Badminton winners are Mary King (1992, 2000), Pippa Funnell (2002, 2003, 2005), William Fox-Pitt (2004), Oliver Townend (2009) and Paul Tapner (2010).
Since 1949, there have been five Australian winners of Badminton (Bill Roycroft, Laurie Morgan, Andrew Hoy, Lucinda Fredericks and Paul Tapner); two from the USA (Bruce Davidson and David O’Connor), one Swiss (Hans Schwarzenbach), one French (Nicolas Touzaint), one Irish (Eddie Boylan) plus Mark Todd’s four wins for New Zealand.
The in-form Andrew Nicholson (NZL), who has just won three consecutive CCI4*s, holds the record for Badminton completions – 31 times – but has yet to win. His best result to date is second in 2004 on Lord Killinghurst. Could 2013 be his year?
Badminton is also a place where young riders make their mark – and this year, there are three candidates for the HSBC Training Bursary, which is presented to the highest placed rider never to have previously completed a 4-star level event: Jamie Atkinson (GBR) on Celtic Fortune, Sarah Ennis (IRL) with Sugar Brown Babe and Manuel Grave (POR) on Samaritano.
Dressage starts on Friday at 9.30am (British time) with Oliver Townend (GBR) first into the arena on Armada.
HSBC FEI Classics leaderboard (after 3 of 6 events)
1 Andrew Nicholson (NZL) 30 points
2 William Fox-Pitt (GBR) 20
3 Craig Barrett (AUS) 15
4 Jonathan Paget (NZL) 12
5 Natalie Blundell (AUS) 12
6 Michael Jung (GER) 10
7 Murray Lamperd (AUS) 10
8 Buck Davidson (USA) 8
9 Jessica Manson (AUS) 8
10 Lynn Symansky (USA) 6. —- By Kate Green / (Photo: Kit Houghton/FEI)