Michael Jung won the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials and, as a result, claimed the sport’s biggest prize, the elusive Rolex Grand Slam. In what will rank as the greatest day ‘at the office’ for any rider in eventing’s history, the German banked US$350,000 (NZ$512,407) from Rolex, together with the £80,000 (NZ$169,024) event first prize. Additionally, he added another Rolex watch to his already extensive collection. No rider has netted the Rolex Grand Slam (for winning Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton consecutively) since Britain’s Pippa Funnell in 2003.
As the greatest exponent the sport has ever seen, Michael entered the show jumping arena aboard La Biosthetique Sam FBW with a two-fence cushion. Seventeen horses had already jumped clear around Kelvin Bywater’s 13-fence track, but despite the tension in the cauldron that was Badminton’s main arena, the bay gelding still put up one of the best performances of the day, not rubbing a single rail to finish on his leading dressage score of 34.4, nine points clear of his nearest rivals, fellow German Andreas Ostholt and So Is Et. Britain’s Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul were third.
“I need time to take in this really special moment,” said Michael. “I kept telling myself that this was just a normal competition, that it wasn’t special, that it wasn’t Badminton. Now I can realise what it really is. It’s really special.”
In the collecting ring, among hugs and congratulations, Sir Mark Todd, himself celebrating fourth place aboard Leonidas II, asked the German: “Where’s the party?”
The 60-year-old Sir Mark, who was pleased to be beaten to the ‘oldest rider accolade’ by 62-year-old French rider Jean Teulere, led an incredible Kiwi charge that saw four finish within the top 10 of a competition termed a vintage Badminton.
Leonidas hadn’t touched a single one of the 16 jumping efforts in a final phase where the scores were tightly bunched. However, Toddy was still ruing a disappointing first phase mark of 44.8, for an initial 17th place.
“It was hard to get over [the dressage],” he said. “But Leonidas has been brilliant ever since and to be fourth is amazing. I’ve just got to get him better in the [first phase] as we want to be on that podium in Rio.”
Clarke Johnstone secured fifth slot with Balmoral Sensation, whose nearly foot-perfect performance over Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s hugely influential 33-fence cross-country course was one of Saturday’s highlights.
“I came here knowing he could do it. He’s brave, careful and scopey,” said Clarke, who had given the grey gelding by Senator VDL a quiet outing in a CIC** class at Belton Park as a prep run. “He felt quite tired [in the show jumping]. He felt like he’d had a big day yesterday. I didn’t go in the arena thinking that a clear round was a done deal, but it was helpful that he’s jumped bigger tracks in New Zealand regularly.”
Clarke, who will be living in the Northern Hemisphere until the end of the eventing season, went on to confess that he has a particularly special partnership with Balmoral Sensation. “But he’s a totally different sort of horse. Someone described him as mercurial. He can be quiet or he can be hot.”
At an event which saw a retirement ceremony for Clifton Promise, Jock Paget and Promise’s stablemate Clifton Lush claimed sixth slot.
“Things are getting worse and worse for me here,” he joked. “The first year I won, the second time I was third and now I’m sixth. I made errors in the dressage which is why we weren’t better placed,” added the rider who hoped he has booked a Rio ticket with either Lush or Clifton Signature, his Kentucky CCI**** ride.
Jonelle Price and Classic Moet were 10th, the middle part of the treble plummeting to the ground in an otherwise clear round. “It was unlucky,” said Jonelle. “Would I have ridden it differently? No, probably not. Her technique is against her sometimes. She’s gone to expectations and if you ride a horse who is not quite classical you are reliant on the way the competition unfolds.”
For Blyth Tait a 13th placing aboard the 13-year-old Bear Necessity V thanks to a double jumping clear was not only a cause for celebration but a signal that the 54-year-old (who celebrates his 55th birthday on Tuesday) is back at the very top of his game after more than a decade away. His last completion at this four-star event was back in 2003 with Eze.
“I would have liked Bear Necessity to have been a bit fitter, but it’s been a wet spring,” said the rider, who admitted that his horse tired towards the end of the cross-country. “I also had watch problems and got four time faults. At the time I said it didn’t matter, but it does now we’ve show jumped clear because we would have been in the top 10.”
Blyth kicked off Bear Necessity’s career at novice level in the autumn of 2012. In just three seasons he was contesting the Pau CCI****, where the pair finished 15th. “He tries so hard,” said Blyth. “I’m looking forward to the future with him. He’s a good horse with a big heart and a great turn of foot.”
Jesse Campbell, 33rd and the final New Zealand finisher with Kaapachino, was clearly disappointed with his cricket show jumping score to add to his run-out the day before at the terrifying direct route at the KBIS Vicarage Vee. As a result, he plummeted down through the leaderboard, relinquishing his impressive 10th dressage placing.
“Kaapachino pulled off two front shoes yesterday, one after the Gatehouse New Pond and the other at the Shogun Hollow. He’s feeling that today. It shows that you need a really top horse here. Kappachino is a good horse, but you need a natural jumping horse who will come out well on the last day. The reality is he’s a New Zealand Thoroughbred who I got when I was 19. I basically never dreamed that we would get here.”
Kaapachino is likely to be aimed at the new CIC*** series of Event Rider Masters fixtures.
New Zealand riders watching from the sidelines on Sunday included unlucky Tim Price, a victim on Saturday of the Vicarage Vee. He had suffered plenty of ribbing for his transport dilemmas prior to Badminton. Deciding to leave the Kentucky CCI**** early after a fall there, Tim took 24 hours longer than his fellow New Zealanders to return from America after a diverted domestic flight caused him to miss his international connection back to Britain.
Badminton, a selection trial for the Kiwis, provided the selectors with plenty of food for thought. An announcement is expected at the end of June.
“This was a tremendous result for New Zealand,” said Vicki Glynn, ESNZ CEO who was at the event. “It’s fantastic to see a mix of more experienced riders and some of the younger ones coming through. It bodes well for the future of New Zealand eventing.”
A plethora of special guests was welcomed at the ESNZ hospitality marquee at the edge of Badminton’s famous lake. They included National Hunt racing legend AP McCoy, as well as the New Zealand High Commissioner Sir Lockwood Smith, who was attending his first horse trials. “He was absolutely engrossed,” added Vicki.
Summing up the experience for the riders, Mark Todd said: “[Badminton is] so special. It’s our Wimbledon. It’s a privilege to be here.”