At last! Andrew wins!

Another truly magnificent result for the New Zealanders at Badminton and oh-so-sweet that Andrew Nicholson finally won!

Andrew Nicholson finally gets to lift the trophy up in celebration as winner of the 2017 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)

Thirty-three years ago Andrew Nicholson first competed at Badminton Horse Trials, and since then he has completed the prestigious and challenging event a record 37 more times. Finally, today his name is on the trophy. Yes he has won it at last – riding Nereo, one of the best event horses of all time.

Nereo has now recorded 10 top-10 finishes at four-star level, a feat equalled by Michael Jung’s La Biosthetique Sam who today had to settle for second place. Both horses were on the individual podium at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky seven years ago! They are two of the finest eventing horses the world has ever seen.

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo jumping clear with just one time fault to win after the Germans faltered in the final phase. (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)

Continuing New Zealand’s great history of achievement at this event was Tim Price who finished third on Xavier Faer, with Sir Mark Todd fourth on NZB Campino and sixth on Leonidas II. Andrew was also 12th on Qwanza, who won the prize for the highest-placed mare. Dan Jocelyn and Dassett Cool Touch finished in 29th place after having 12 faults in the show jumping.

Andrew and Qwanza, who finished 12th and was best-placed mare (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)

The jumping phase was full of drama and while many in the top 10 left the poles up, there were only 12 horses who managed no faults, jumping or time. Sir Mark Todd nailed it on both of his horses, another demonstration of his sheer brilliance.

The show jumping was always going to be tense, with only 0.8 penalties separating the top three after cross-country: Ingrid Klimke on Horseware Hale Bob OLD, Michael Jung and Andrew. Tim Price, fourth after cross-country, was clear with just one time penalty but probably didn’t expect to finish on the podium, as at that point there was a 9.6pen gap between him and the top three. There was silence in the stands as Andrew entered the arena, and every time Nereo touched a fence it was heard, but the crowd kept quiet. Andrew took things carefully; all the poles stayed up and the crowd erupted when the popular rider crossed the finish flags with just one time fault.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam came in next and jumped faultlessly, as per normal, until fence six when, with only a light brush, the top rail came down. The crowd reacted when they realised Andrew had just moved up a place to second. The noise didn’t distract the German, and he finished with just the four faults, guaranteed of a top-three finish.

Ingrid Klimke and ‘Bobby’ therefore had all the pressure on them. The first five fences presented no difficulties but the top pole over the water tray at fence six was also their undoing when Bobby, normally a reliable show jumper, brushed it with his back feet. The crowd erupted, knowing Andrew had won, but poor Ingrid had to continue. She had another rail down and then got things all wrong in the treble, where Bobby stopped. She managed to complete, but with 12 jumping penalties and time faults she slipped down to ninth – Andrew won and Tim moved up to third.

Andrew, who missed the event last year when he ruled himself out as not being fit enough after his serious neck injury, used the word ‘unbelievable’ many times. “To have waited so long, to be so near a few times…” It seemed to be taking a while for the win to sink in.

“Nereo is an unbelievable horse. The amount of big, big events he has done for a big strong horse, and to do it year and year is unbelievable.  He is not built to be a Ferrari and he is being driven like one, year after year.”

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo – wonderful partners at the top of their game. (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)

“I’ve tried going into the show jumping in the lead and that hasn’t been good. I was thinking in my mind I would rather go in close behind Michi and Ingrid. I thought I had cut it a little bit too fine when I was slipping at the end, but I was quite happy to be in third. If I can’t jump clear myself in third, I can’t if I was in first, so I can leave it up to them to see what they can do.”

There was complete chaos in the collecting ring, as everyone wanted to congratulate Andrew. He was swamped with fellow competitors and his family, including his wife Wiggy, his children and grandchildren. The support from other riders meant a lot to Andrew. “There are a big bunch of riders who have worked for me over the years. Jonty Evans, Astier Nicolas, Cedric Lyard. They have got to the top and to the Olympics and I am very proud watching them. I feel I get a lot of support from them; it’s a great sport and a great day for me.”

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“It’s been worth the wait. The feeling, it’s not like the feeling when I have won Burghley. I go to the big events nowadays if I have a live chance, and I want to win it. Then if you are lucky enough to win it, you’re not flat, you feel like you’ve done what you went to do. I have come here with that idea but this feeling is 100 times better.”

Andrew Nicholson hugs his groom Johanna Ward, while Nereo’s proud owner Libby Sellar looks on (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography

It was also a triumph for Libby Sellar, who has owned horses in Andrew’s stable for many years, including Quimbo and of course Nereo. “That was a bit of all right, Andrew,” she said afterwards. “Thank you very much indeed!” Libby, who spends a few months in New Zealand during our summer, had commented earlier this year that it could be 17-year-old Nereo’s last year competing. If it is his last four-star, it will be a fitting finish to a wonderful career.

Andrew’s win is even more of a fairy tale considering he broke his neck in a fall 18 months ago, but the prospect of competing Avebury, his three-time Burghley winner, and Nereo was, he says, a strong motivation during his recovery.

Michael Jung’s quest for another grand slam (Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley) now has to be restarted but he is ever the professional and was very gracious about his second place. “I am a bit unlucky about the mistake but I am very happy about my horse, he jumped well and it was my mistake. It is not a mistake from my horse. I am very happy about the second place at Badminton. It is a really tough competition and it is fantastic to be here.” He had earlier walked the cross-country course with Andrew and Ingrid, and gets on well with today’s winner who he described as ‘very brilliant’. “It is an absolutely fantastic story also that he wins this; fantastic in the sport.”

Andrew told Horse & Hound that he had been asked to walk the cross-country course with the Germans this week and that he was surprised and honoured when Michael came along. “I thought I might look a bit silly if I didn’t win after helping them!”  Perhaps there may be some ongoing work for Andrew with the German team in the future, if he ever decided to stop competing!

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW had a rail which cost them another Badminton title. Last time it was Jock Paget who benefited; this year it was Andrew Nicholson. (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)

Tim Price climbed from 34th after dressage to third. Tim was “chuffed” with that result and with his young horse, who was having his first start at Badminton. “He is an athlete through and through and the flat work is always the last thing to come. The people, the knowledgeable crowd, the park, it is just an amazing place to come to. The new designer this year, he has put his touch to things and I think he has done an exceptional job for his first time. It’s been a privilege as always to get here with healthy horses. The whole thing has been great and the way it has gone for me this time has set me up for the rest of the season, I believe. Better good things to come.”

Tim said he was relieved with the result. “Last year I felt there were a few instances where it could have gone the other way. I feel like there has been a load lifted. It is nice and early in the year and hopefully I will be able to take that confidence through.” He has had a difficult 12 months, so let’s hope this is a sign of better luck from hereon in.

Tim Price and Xavier Faer – it might have been Xavier Faer’s first Badminton, but he didn’t let that put him off a great performance. (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)

Sir Mark Todd’s achievement of finishing fourth and sixth should also be celebrated. He was delighted with his horses. “I would have liked to be a bit nearer the front, but I can’t complain with two horses in the top 10. Not quite at the top, by hey, we are up against some of the best in the world here and if you can be up there with them, it is amazing. They are both good horses.”

Sir Mark Todd and Leonidas II (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography)
NZB Campino on his way to fourth place with Sir Mark Todd. (Image: Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography

As far as the future is concerned, Sir Mark thinks it will be Burghley with Leonidas and maybe he will take Campino back to Pau. In the meantime, he has Chatsworth next week, then it is on to Ireland for Tattersalls and France for Saumur.

Event Director, Hugh Thomas, was on cloud nine with the weekend after great weather and record crowds. “Sometimes you can’t really write the script. If we had written that script, everyone would have said that’s just a fantasy novel. It was wonderful, wonderful stuff. Michi Jung just had a fence down. It can happen and it does happen all the time. Obviously, Ingrid had a fence down and then the whole thing just went sadly wrong for her. She’ll be back, she is brilliant.

“For me, it is a real pleasure to see Andrew win because it would have been a real injustice in a funny sort of way if he had gone through his career without a Badminton to his name. He has been an outstanding rider for a long, long time. We all know how often he has been around here. He has won all the other big ones. If, in the end, he had never won Badminton, that would have been very, very sad. I think everyone is really pleased that he has won.”

There were some huge disappointments, of course, as always in eventing. Australian Sam Griffiths was one who could have had a better result if only he had been a few inches to the right over one fence. He was awarded 50 penalties for being outside the flag under the new rule put in place just a few weeks ago. Under the previous rules he would have been eliminated. Instead he went on with Paulank Brockagh to jump a clear show jumping round and finish in 34th place. “I am really disappointed about the 50 penalties I got yesterday. I felt I jumped inside the flag. The ground jury thought otherwise. Most sports, if there is a 50/50 call, you get the benefit of the doubt; and I don’t think they have given me the benefit of the doubt. I am really disappointed about that, but it’s a sport and I will come back and fight another day.”

Jonty Evans was another who was on top of the world after finishing third after dressage but a run-out at the corners in the cross-country destroyed his chances. He jumped clear in the show jumping on Cooley Rorke’s Drift and finished 20th. “He was a good boy, I can’t remember the statistics but he hasn’t had a pole at a three-day event for a long, long time. I really didn’t want it to be today, even though we didn’t have the greatest result yesterday. It was really important for me to try to jump clear. This morning I went back and walked the line on the cross-country course that I made the mistake at. I won’t do that again. If Eric [Winter] builds that fence again next year I will do it better. I think it has given us a huge amount of confidence that we can hopefully compete with the very best. The dressage was undoubtedly a highlight.”

Both first-time Brits Lissa Green and Alex Bragg’s Badminton finished at the final trot-up when they were sent to the hold box and withdrew from there.

The best British rider (Butler Bowl) went to Rosalind Canter (Allstar B) who also won the best British rider not previously competed at Badminton. The best owner/rider went to Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa (Duke of Cavan) who finished eighth and Joseph Murphy (Sportsfield Othello) won the Glentrool Trophy for the horse and rider who made the greatest improvement on their dressage placing (they moved from 75th to 13th).  The Farrier’s Prize went to Jimmy Cooper for his work on Gemma Tattersall’s Arctic Soul and Arctic Soul also won the prize for the best retrained racehorse. Xavier Faer (ridden by Tim, owned by Trisha Rickards, Nigella Hall and Tim) won the Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain (ie. British-bred horse). Tim won the William Miflin Memorial Trophy for the rider closest to the optimum time (one second under). Andrew’s groom, Johanna Ward, won the Mark Holliday Memorial Trophy for her efforts with Nereo.

Coveted Armada dishes, for five completions of Badminton, were awarded to Blyth Tait, Izzy Taylor, Bettina Hoy, Joseph Murphy and Louise Harwood. Blyth unfortunately didn’t finish this year, but it was great to see him receive an Armada Dish, especially as his completions span many years.

And finally, did anyone notice that it wasn’t Sam that Michael Jung took into the presentation? Sam is a complete nutter when it comes to prize-givings. He can’t be good at everything!