British rider Rosalind Canter is heading the leaderboard after an exciting first day of dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, scoring a superb 76.09% on Allstar B, for a penalty mark of 23.9.
Double Olympic champion and former Badminton winners Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW led for most of the afternoon on 24.7, but were bumped from the top spot by Ros and her European gold medal winner.
“I’m completely elated and very relieved — it was hard work in there and I had no idea about the marks until I had finished, so it was a shock but a great one,” Ros says.
“I’m extremely proud of him because a few years ago he couldn’t trot and he didn’t like the dressage. For him to put in a performance like that is just fantastic.”
Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa and The Duke of Cavan are sitting third, just 0.2pen behind Michael, and the USA’s Lauren Keiffer is fourth on Veronica.
Tim Price is the best of the New Zealand riders, sixth on Ringwood Sky Boy, scoring 74.25% (25.8pen) for an elegant test, though it was not without errors, with a couple of the flying changes late behind.
Sir Mark Todd and Leonidas are 11th at this stage, with a score of 27.9pen. Sir Mark says: “He did a really nice test. He got a bit tight in his walk, did a few unsteady steps, and then that messed up our halt and rein-back. But the rest of the work was pretty good, and I gather the judges were scoring it pretty fairly.”
Asked about Eric Winter’s imposing cross-country track, he says: “I’ve had a quick look, I didn’t go into too much detail but it looks maybe not quite as big dimensionally as some other years, but lots of technicality, lots of angles, lots of undulating ground, plenty of places to catch us out!”
Sir Mark says the ground, which has been inundated in England’s wet spring, is rapidly drying out but will still be influential. “There will be soft patches and once the horses have broken through the top, it could get quite sticky towards the end.”
Defending champions Andrew Nicholson and Nereo are 18th on 30.3. Andrew says he was pleased enough with his test, but thought his horse “was just a bit quieter in his powerful stuff. I don’t know if it was because there were not many people there, and he’s used to more atmosphere, or if it was the ground. He’s a big horse, and it felt like he was just sinking a bit into it. I thought, ‘just stay in his comfort zone and don’t upset the system.’ It felt smooth, but the medium and extended trot and canter normally would have been more powerful and explosive.”
As for the cross-country? “I think it’s quite a test. It’s got a few more big jumping efforts than last year – bulky type fences that horses will jump very big and put a lot of effort into, which looks good for the public and feels good at the time, but when you land and come away from it you realise that they’ve used up a lot of energy. There are a few of them in a row. The ground will be soft, so I think you’ve got to leave the start box with one plan, just feel what you’ve got as you go around, and be prepared to adapt.”
Caroline Powell shares 21st equal place on Up Up and Away, on 34.1, and Dan Jocelyn is 28th on Dassett Cool Touch.
Meanwhile back in New Zealand, all eyes were on the two Kiwi newcomers to Badminton, Aucklanders Virginia Thompson and Andy Daines.
Andy and Spring Panorama scored 59.66% and are sitting in 33rd place. He and ‘Pete’ made a very pleasant picture and the Badminton commentators, Peter Storr and Pammy Hutton, praised the horse’s lovely outline; the walk and trot work was good but he struggled with the rhythm of his canter, particularly in the flying changes.
Andy says: “I was quite happy with him. His canter is not his best gait and we have always struggled with the changes, so that was always going to be his hardest part of the test, but overall I was happy with him. I feel I was a bit robbed in marks in a few movements; for example the walk I was given 8s by two judges but a 4 by the other.
“Luckily, Badminton is not a dressage show and Saturday [cross-country] has a huge part to play. The course is pretty epic with loads of angles but I’m feeling very excited to get out there and attack the course.”
Ginny was one of the last riders to go on the first dressage day, and her mare Star Nouveau (‘Paige’) was visibly nervous in the incomparable atmosphere of the world’s biggest four-star.
Though the commentators admired Ginny and Paige, saying the mare was a “super, uphill type”, she was unable to show the way of going she is capable of, and scored 56.44% for 38th place. Ginny says: “It didn’t quite go to plan… Paige got very nervous. Bring on the cross-country!”
The second day of dressage begins tonight (New Zealand time) with Britain’s Izzy Taylor leading the charge. Unusually, most of the favourites for top placings were drawn to start on the first day, but we can still expect highlights from Jonty Evans on Cooley Rorkes Drift, Oliver Townend on Ballaghmore Class and William Fox-Pitt on Fernhill Pimms.
New Zealand eyes will be on Jonelle Price riding Classic Moet, Sir Mark on his second ride, Kiltubrid Rhapsody, and Caroline Powell on her second mount, On the Brash.
This is the first four-star since the dressage co-efficients have been removed, with an aim of reducing the first phase’s overall influence in the competition. Therefore, the penalty scores are much lower than we are used to seeing at a three-day event. A sub-40 score used to be the benchmark; a sub-25 mark is the new equivalent.