May 5—Badminton, England
The huge crowd at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** roared home Germany’s Michael Jung, cheering loudly at the finish of the cross-country to show their appreciation of a true horseman.
However, although the Olympic, World and European champion has retained his lead on La Biosthetique Sam FBW after the first two phases, he will need all his famous reserves of calm tomorrow. He does not have a fence in hand over New Zealander Jock Paget, who was immaculate on Clifton Promise and lies in second place.
The two Rolex Grand Slam contenders, Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt on Parklane Hawk and New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson on Nereo, have moved into closer contention in third and fourth places, still separated by just 0.2 of a penalty after faultless performances.
Badminton is the world’s oldest and richest CCI**** and attracts more than 150,000 spectators on cross-country day, the most 30-year-old Jung has encountered in his career so far. “There are so many people here, and they lift you over the fences,” he said. “The atmosphere is fantastic. I have wanted to come here since I was a young boy, so to be in this position feels amazing.”
Jung, who had a refusal at the skinny brush at the top of the Savills’ Staircase (fence 22) on his first ride Leopin, also had a nervous moment on Sam. The 13-year-old gelding twisted over the imposing timber into Badminton’s famous Lake (fence 9) and landed facing in the wrong direction for the two small brush fences that came next, with Jung close to completely losing his reins.
The crowd gasped loudly, but somehow Jung, showing amazingly quick reactions, managed to set his horse back on track. “I gave him time to find his balance again, and it was fine,” he said. “Yes, we had a little mistake at the first water, but the good thing is that the water was in the beginning and not in the end so he was fresh enough to manage everything. The rest of it was really perfect.”
The pair finished 14 seconds inside the optimum time of 11:13, despite taking a long route at the Staircase this time.
Jung’s Olympic teammate Sandra Auffarth was equally impressive on her Badminton debut, and she is now in fifth place on Opgun Louvo, having added just 1.2 time penalties.
Italy’s Stefano Breccarioli produced the ride of his life on the elegant Apollo van de Wendi Kurt Hoeve, having clearly benefited from the advice of his mentor Andrew Nicholson, and he is now in sixth place with 6 time penalties, his best cross-country result at this level.
“I am very happy,” said Brecciaroli. “I was trying very hard. The competition is so exciting and the atmosphere fantastic. I’m feeling very proud to be at the top of the leaderboard with Olympic champions.”
Badminton first-timer Tiana Coudray retained her position as the best of the American riders, lying 10th after cross-country with 2 time penalties aboard Ringwood Magister. She had a mishap at the Lake, when as they galloped out of the water Ringwood Magister's right front bandage came undone and started to unwrap, dangling around his legs. One the way to the next fence, the bandage flapped and Ringwood Magister repeatedly stepped on it as he galloped, but he jumped the next wihtout incident and the bandage came off completely before the next fence.
A clear round with 6 time penalties moved Clark Montgomery and Universe up in the standings, though Montgomery had to make a split-second decision at the Savills' Staircase when Universe jumped boldly up the first bank, got a bit underneath the second bank up, and landed with a stumble. Montgomery, seeing that he didn't have the impulsion for the two strides up the hill to the keyhole jump at the C element, pulled out to the right and went to the long option instead. The fence judge ruled that he had not presented to the keyhole, so he escaped jumping penalties. Colleen Rutledge moved up 26 spots with a clear round and 4 time faults aboard Shiraz. That would make five four-stars and no cross-country penalties for “Luke.”
Australia’s Sam Griffiths moved up three places to seventh, ahead of Nicholson on Avebury, the only rider with two horses in the top 12.
Hugh Thomas’ course jumped exceptionally well, with 69 clear rounds and more than 25 percent of the field—25 riders—finishing inside the optimum time thanks to the perfect going.
“The ground is superb, and the course felt lovely to ride,” said Nicholson, who coped with the hazard of being chased by two different dogs during his round on Avebury. “It helped sharpen Avebury up. He probably thought I’d arranged it on purpose!” he joked.
Not everyone made the track look quite so easy, however, and there were some high-profile mistakes. Great Britain’s Kristina Cook gave notice that the new HSBC Market Place complex (fence 21) would be influential when Du Novo News ran out at the second open corner, and William Fox-Pitt with first ride Oslo and Mark Todd on Ravenstar also had problems here.
Germany’s Dirk Schrade, third after dressage on King Artus, retired when the horse refused at the rails into the Lake (fence 9), while fellow German Kai Rüder on Le Prince des Bois and Britain’s Zara Phillips in High Kingdom both ran past one of the small brush fences in the Lake.
The latter seems to be perpetually unlucky at Badminton and is yet to better her 16th place in 2008. “I made a mistake, and you pay the price,” Phillips said. “It’s frustrating after all the hard work, but he’s such a great horse.”
Pippa Funnell, who had done such a fantastic job to bring Redesigned back to top level after three years on the sidelines, had an even more frustrating run-out at the top of the Savills Staircase. It cost her fifth place at this stage.
Susanna Bordone of Italy was unseated when Blue Moss hit the rails going into the Shogun Hollow (fence 18), and Germany’s Bettina Hoy was unshipped when Lanfranco TSF twisted over the final element of Huntsman’s Close (fence 7).
Great Britain’s Mary King continued unawares after Kings Temptress took out the flag at the open corner at the Rodney Powell Products Farmyard (fence 13), but the ground jury reviewed the CCTV footage and decided she hadn’t jumped between the flags, so she was stopped.
Fox-Pitt timed his cross-country round to perfection on Parklane Hawk, finishing 1 second inside the optimum time after opting for a cautious route at fence 21 this time.
“I think the course was more interesting to ride than it walked,” he said. “A few of the strides didn’t come up as you expected. The only time where he didn’t go exactly as I planned was where I did two little strides coming out of the pond—and that’s not like him; he would normally be a brave long striding horse. So it’s rather good to know he can be a bit clever and nimble because he is brave as a lion.”
Fox-Pitt conceded that he may be facing an uphill task in his pursuit of Grand Slam glory in tomorrow’s show jumping phase.
“There’s no way it’s going to be a normal day at Badminton with so much at stake,” he said. “Even if I jump clear on Parklane Hawk—and that certainly isn’t guaranteed—I’m still relying on others to make mistakes, and that isn’t very likely either. Especially as this chap [Michael Jung] doesn’t make many!”
The final horse inspection takes place at 8:30 a.m. GMT, and show jumping begins at 11.