‘She was magic!’: Badminton’s thrilling cross-country

Jonelle Price and Classic Moet are sitting in pole position after cross-country (Image: Libby Law)

The excitement and tension will be sky-high for the show jumping tomorrow at Badminton! Can overnight leader Jonelle Price hang on and win, denying Oliver Townend the Grand Slam? Or will it be English rider Ros Canter and Allstar B, or Michael Jung on the incomparable La Biosthetique Sam who prevail?

Jonelle’s round on her speedy 15-year-old thoroughbred mare Classic Moet was a real highlight, and has the Kiwi double Olympian on the verge of her first four-star win.

“She was magic,” said Jonelle. “To come here off one run [at Belton advanced] this spring and with the fact we barely ran last year [because Jonelle had baby Otis], I felt a bit of pressure with all the talk of the time and high expectations that we could be one of the ones to come close, but she was fantastic.

Jonelle was delighted with her mare’s efforts (Image: Libby Law)

“I would have obviously liked to have been one second less, the scoreboard looks much tidier if it doesn’t have a decimal point on it.’

If Ollie wins, he would collect USD$350,000 for the Grand Slam on top of the £100,000 first place prize money, and he has two live chances at this point.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class (Image: Libby Law)

The Yorkshireman is second overnight on Ballaghmor Class, on the same score as Jonelle (28pen), but as Jonelle was closest to the optimum time, she is in the lead. Ollie is also in fifth place on Cooley SRS, 5.1 penalties in arrears.

However, he has to get through the final horse inspection before he gets to show jump, and will be under even more scrutiny than normal thanks to his aggressive riding and use of the whip on both his horses, including the obviously-tired Ballaghmor Class. The officials have issued him with a warning and told him that the horses would be checked very carefully for their fitness to compete in the final phase.

The reaction on social media is, unsurprisingly, less forgiving. He certainly hasn’t won any new fans, and indeed has lost a number, thanks to his performance in the final stages of the cross-country day. Of course, all the Kiwi supporters will be hoping that Jonelle, dubbed the fastest woman in the world of eventing, can nail her first four-star win.

British rider Ros Canter and Allstar B impressed and have finished in third place on a score of 30.3. Ros’ round was a brilliant exhibition of bold, attacking riding coupled with precision and great care.

Rosalind Canter and Allstar B: a brilliant exhibition (Image: Libby Law)

“This was probably the first time he’s had to really dig deep,” said the 32-year-old. “Last year [when they finished fifth] I had a dream ride and everything happened really easily. Today he was more tired than he had been before, but he still dug deep. He was unreal over the technical fences. When I jumped the Vicarage Vee I was thinking, ‘this ought to feel big’, but he just stepped over it.”

The ever-brilliant Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW are also right in amongst it, in fourth place on a score of 30.7.

They survived a heart-in-mouth moment at the Outlander PHEV Mound (fence 14) when a misjudgement at the first corner left Michael having to cling on like a limpet.

“The gallop down hill changed the balance and perhaps I trusted him a bit too much,” was Michael’s assessment. “I was nearly out; it was very close. You could have had a mistake anywhere out there, but that’s what cross-country riding is about; you need care from the first to the last [fence].”

Sir Mark Todd, the oldest rider in the field at 62, has two horses in the top 10. Kiltubrid Rhapsody lies sixth and Leonidas II is tenth.

Sir Mark Todd and Kiltubrid Rhapsody, who are now sixth (Image: Libby Law)

Sir Mark was held on the course on Kiltubrid Rhapsody, while Alexander Bragg’s horse, Redpath Ransome was attended to. Unfortunately, the horse suffered an irreparable injury to the right fore suspensory ligament, occurring while galloping between fences 27 and 28. The horse was immediately taken by ambulance to the veterinary clinic in the stables, where he was examined by an orthopaedic specialist.

Sadly, the horse was euthanased, and we join with the organisers and the eventing family in extending our sympathy to the owners, rider and all connections.

Sir Mark had 10 time faults on Kiltrubid Rhapsody, and 8.4 on Leonidas. Meanwhile Andrew Nicholson had one of the faster rounds on Nereo, adding 7.2 time faults to rise to 12th place overnight, 9.5 penalties behind Jonelle.

Tim Price is 14th, having added 12.4 time penalties during his lovely round on Ringwood Sky Boy, and Caroline Powell will be thrilled with two clears on her relatively inexperienced horses; she had 29.6 time faults on On the Brash to sit 33rd, and 33.6 with Up Up and Away, to sit 36th.

America’s Lauren Kieffer lies seventh with the much-admired mare, Veronica, while Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul sit in eighth. Gemma was expected to be among the fastest rounds, and she was, although not as fast as predicted, with the horse tiring towards the end of the course.

Eleven of the 16 first-timers completed, including New Zealand’s Ginny Thompson and Star Nouveau. Ginny, on her Facebook page, was obviously on cloud nine. “I have one amazing pony! Paige jumped her heart out for me today! She was an absolute star. I took two options and we did take a frangible pin so finished with 11 penalties and 15 time faults – moved up from 75th to 39th! I’m over the moon for our first Badminton efforts.”

Ginny Thompson and Star Nouveau: over the moon! (Image: Libby Law)

The best of the first-timers was Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky, who gave an inspired performance, ending up in ninth place after cross country. Padraig, who only started eventing in 2013, was quick to credit his wife, Lucy, pregnant with their second child, for the horse’s fitness work. “Without a such an experienced support team, someone like me coming into the sport so late would have no hope of achieving something like this.”

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky (Image: Libby Law)

Lucy (nee Wiegersma) was second at Badminton in 2008, but, since having children, has handed over her top rides to her husband, who has had one of the more interesting routes into the sport. His background is in show jumping, working for such names as Rolf Goran Bengtsson, before he turned to academia, gaining a first-class degree in economics and finance with German, plus a PhD, before returning to producing horses – this time eventers – with Lucy at their Devon base.

Padraig’s rise has been meteoric – he has represented Ireland at European and Olympic level, was part of the winning Nations Cup team at Boekelo in 2016 and last year finished seventh at Blenheim on Mr Chunky, a horse produced to four-star level by Lucy. Mr Chunky is by Jumbo, the same sire as Andrew Nicholson’s triple Burghley winner, Avebury.

Andy Daines was one of the first timers who didn’t complete. He says that it wasn’t his day: “Pete jumped everything I asked him to and even tried his heart out for me when I made a bad judgment call, love this boy so much, we are both fine and already organising our next shows.”

Andy Daines with the wonderful backdrop of Badminton House, riding Spring Panorama into the Lake (Image: Libby Law)

There were 44 clear rounds from 77 starters over Eric Winter’s 32-fence course. Huntsman’s Close (fences 6abc), put paid to several leading contenders’ chances, including previous winners Pippa Funnell (Billy Beware) and William Fox-Pitt (Fernhill Pimms), who both ran out at the tricky third element.

There were all sorts of lines ridden through the Lake, but Harry Dzenis (Xam) and James O’Haire (China Doll) were the only ones to endure a complete submersion on the landing side of the huge log drop in.

Course-designer, Eric Winter, says: “I was happy with how today panned out. I didn’t expect riders to go to the left of the ropes coming out of the lake and angle the straight route c element – they beat me there – but otherwise the fences generally rode as I hoped they would.”

There are some sunburnt spectators heading home, as the weather surprised everyone, turning on a scorcher of a day. The people were certainly packed into the amazing venue, continuing the tradition of it being one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Tomorrow’s timetable (New Zealand times are used):

  • 7.30pm Final Horse Inspection in front of Badminton House

• 10pm Jumping test, horses placed lower than top 20

• 1am Jumping test for top 20 competitors

• 2.15am Parade of Prize Winners and Presentation of Prizes

For a blow-by-blow account of the action, check out our article on this link.

Additional reporting thanks to Badminton Horse Trials.

(Image: Libby Law)