Nicholson says no to Badminton

Badminton won't be the same without Andrew Nicholson, who has made the decision to withdraw based on his own assessment of his fitness levels.

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo at the 2015 Badminton, where they were leading after cross-country but 3 rails down in the showjumping saw them finish 6th. (Image Libby Law)
Andrew and Nereo at Badminton 2015, where they led after cross-country but had 3 rails down in the show jumping and finished 6th (Image: Libby Law)

Andrew Nicholson has withdrawn from this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.

The New Zealand rider was entered with Libby Sellar’s Nereo, individual bronze and team medallist at the 2010 World Equestrian Games and third at Badminton in 2013.

However, Andrew is recovering from a serious neck injury sustained at the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park last August. Despite good results so far this season, including a Advanced win on Jet Set IV, also owned by Libby Sellar, at Withington on Sunday, he feels he is not quite ready for the demands of competing at CCI4* level, and said: “I have reluctantly decided to withdraw Nereo from Badminton – through no fault of his own. I have doubts over my own fitness and ability to do him full justice at this point.

“I successfully rode four horses in the Advanced at Withington on Sunday, all of whom won prizes, but was aware I felt fatigued by the end of the seven-minute cross-country course. It would therefore not be sensible to attempt an 11 1/2-minute course at Badminton.

“I have every confidence my strength and fitness will continue to improve and, with the full support of Nereo’s owner Libby Sellar, we now plan to target him towards significant events such as those in the exciting new Event Rider Masters series.”

Nereo is a 16-year-old gelding bred in Spain by Ramon Beca. He won the French CCI4* at Pau in 2012, a couple of months after leading New Zealand to team bronze at the London Olympics, where he and Andrew finished fourth individually.

You can watch some of Andrew’s efforts at Withington on this link. He is on Perfect Stranger at 12.20 – the pair finished second.

Other significant withdrawals from Badminton include Pippa Funnell who was hospitalised after a fall last weekend. She had to make the decision to withdraw both her horses, Second Supreme and Billy Beware. Of course, Andrew had earlier withdrawn Avebury as the horse has retired, and Jock Paget withdrew Clifton Promise, for the same reason.

Over a week ago, Ingrid Klimke also withdrew her horse Horseware Hale Bob to concentrate on getting him to the Olympics, and William Fox-Pitt withdrew Parklane Hawk a while back.

We believe Andrew’s withdrawal is a clear signal (if we haven’t had enough already) that he does not have any intention of aiming at the Olympics this year.  There is no sign of the relationship between him and ESNZ being repaired. In an article on the Stuff website he was quoted as saying “I think there will possibly be a few more fall by the wayside, they could be needing an extra man.”  So perhaps there still is the chance that he could make himself available for the Olympics.  Sarah Dalziell, the High Performance Director for ESNZ, also clarified that they haven’t ruled him out. “We have said to him that the door is open to have a discussion around that,” Sarah said. “We have had discussions with his representatives on this. (But) we haven’t had any proactive responses, we haven’t had responses from him.”   The shortlist for Olympic riders is expected to be announced early June.

Back to Badminton, though. With Andrew’s withdrawal, Michael Jung’s chances look even better to take out the Rolex Grand Slam. Andrew, at his best, on Nereo would have been a serious contender to beat him.  Now it is up to fellow Kiwis Sir Mark Todd (Leonidas), Dan Jocelyn (Beaucatcher), Jesse Campbell (Kaapachino) – who has arrived at Badminton already as per his tweet below – Blyth Tait (Bear Necessity), Lucy Jackson (Boson), Megan Heath (St Daniel), Tim and Jonelle Price (Ringwood Sky Boy and Classic Moet), Clarke Johnstone (Balmoral Sensation) and Jock Paget (Clifton Lush).

Perhaps it will be an English win – Zara Phillips has High Kingdom there, and could do it, and Izzy Taylor is riding really well; we do like her horses Orlando and KBIS Briarlands Matilda. Australian riders have a good record at the event and could take out the prestigious title. Ranked number two in the world, Christopher Burton has perhaps one of the best chances on Haruzac or Nobilis 18, or maybe Sam Griffiths can win again on his lovely mare Paulank Brockagh. Another German rider, Bettina Hoy, has been getting some great results on Designer 10, so she too could be a contender.  Of course sentimental favourites will be cancer survivor Ben Hobday and Alice Dunsdon who is aiming to be the first rider to complete all four-star events on the same horse.

So, Badminton starts soon, and we will really miss not seeing Andrew in the field. In fact, it will be very strange not to have him there. We’re trying to think of what he might do that weekend instead. Perhaps feet up in front of the television, watching races and rugby, with a beer in hand? Hard to imagine, but whatever you do Andrew, have a good weekend!