May 6—Badminton, England
A new star was born when New Zealander Jock Paget triumphed in an extraordinary climax to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI****.
Paget, who is the first Badminton debutant to win since fellow Kiwi Mark Todd in 1980, had been at great pains to tell people that he’d so far never jumped clear in the finale of a CCI****. But this time, he and Frances Stead’s Clifton Promise were quietly flawless, as indeed they had been throughout the entire competition in which the spotlight had been focused on the tussle between Michael Jung, Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt.
In an almost unbelievable scenario, the usually faultless Michael Jung (Germany) and La Biosthetique Sam FBW, leaders after first two phases, hit the very last rail of the competition and dropped to second place.
The Rolex Grand Slam challenge evaporated in a split-second when Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk hit the last part of the treble at fence 7 to drop from third to fifth place.
New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson had already jumped clear on Nereo to rise one place to third, but when Paget produced his foot-perfect round, Nicholson had to accept that the Grand Slam quest was over for him too.
Nicholson admitted that the dollar signs flashed past his eyes when Fox-Pitt hit a fence. “I certainly saw a lot of money for a moment,” he laughed.
Nicholson has now completed Badminton 33 times—more than any other rider—but it was only his second time in the top three. “But I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend,” he said. “It’s been very exciting, which is great for the sport, and great for New Zealand where eventing has even been getting ahead of the rugby in the news.”
Ironically, Jung won his Olympic Games gold medal thanks to a last-fence error by Sweden’s Sara Algotsson-Ostholt at Greenwich Park in London last summer; in an eery coincidence, it was the same jump, a London skyline oxer with lamp post standards, that reappeared at Badminton this spring and proved his undoing this time around.
Jung has been training Paget during the winter, and he was amused by the suggestion that he might have done too good a job. “I’ll be training with Jock now,” he joked.
The German, a popular new face at Badminton, was sporting in defeat. “Sam was jumping with a lot of power, and I thought I had a good line to the last, but perhaps I was going too fast,” he said. “I am still very pleased with my second place and to be at my first Badminton.”
Ten years ago, Paget, 29, had not even ridden at an international event. He was an apprentice bricklayer in Sydney when he first started riding. “I knew when I came to Badminton that I had two great horses and that I could win, but I didn’t actually think I was going to,” said the modest Paget, who was also 14th on Clifton Lush. “Until now, I’d made a few little mistakes at the CCI**** level, but I kept knocking at the door. When I was a teenager, I watched Badminton on video, but the idea of winning it was certainly a distant dream.”
Watch an interview with Paget:
Eight nations were represented in the top 12, and 65 of the 84 starters completed the competition. There were 20 clear show jumping rounds without time penalties.
Tiana Coudray was the highest-placed U.S. rider aboard Ringwood Magister. The pair, 10th after cross-country, dropped two rails to end in 17th. Fellow Great Britain-based U.S. rider Clark Montgomery jumped a double-clear round aboard Universe, moving up to 27th. Colleen Rutledge picked up 24 jumping penalties aboard Shiraz, but still earned her goal of finishing all five Northern Hemisphere four-stars with the same horse.