May was a busy month on the international competition calendar. TANIA HUPPATZ reports on Badminton and the Longines Global Champions Tour.
It was a wet and muddy affair at the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials, this year presented by Mars Equestrian. Thanks to bad weather causing eventing competitions to be cancelled in the lead up to Badminton, many combinations struggled to qualify under the new FEI rules. Most years there are 85 starters and those who withdraw prior to the event are replaced from a wait list that can be as many as 120 entries. This year’s entries started at 83 combinations, which were whittled down to just 64 starters.
To avoid the cross country phase clashing with The King and The Queen Consort’s coronation, Badminton was moved back a day so that the dressage started on a Friday rather than Thursday. The first day went well, but the dressage leader board changed dramatically on Saturday when Rosalind Canter (GBR) rode Michele Saul’s 11-year-old Lordships Graffalo into the lead with a stunning 22.1 test – giving Ros, the former 2018 World Champion, a 0.2 penalty advantage over Kitty King and Vendredi Biats.
On Sunday, wet weather and the Eric Winter cross country course created problems aplenty for over half the field. Despite changes to the course to suit the conditions, there were six withdrawals, and out of the 58 starters only 30 finished. At the end of a gruelling day, and after collecting 11.6 cross country penalties, Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo managed to hold top spot with a total of 33.7 penalties.
Tim Price was the best of the Kiwis. Aboard Vitali, he added 24 penalties to his tally, to slot into fourth place with 51.1 penalties. It was good to see a strong Kiwi contingent this year with six riders.
Australian rider Sarah Clark and LV Balou Jeanz withdrew on Thursday night, leaving only one Australian rider, William Leggett with his horse Huberthus AC. It was Bill’s eighth Badminton but his first 5* with Huberthus. Sadly, it was not their day on the cross country and he retired on course.
Tom Crisp (GBR) riding Liberty and Glory had an unexpected fall in the lake and he will be forever remembered for demonstrating his swimming skills, causing spectators to cheer loudly as he made the most of his soggy situation.
The going around the cross country proved heavy for most horses and there were a few falls. With 11 combinations retired and another 17 eliminated, only 30 competitors completed the course. Fortunately, at Monday morning’s trot up all of them passed inspection.
There were mixed results for World Number Four Oliver Townend (GBR) this year. His horse Swallow Springs was eliminated during the cross country (Oliver has since been issued with an FEI Recorded Warning). However, he came second on Ballaghmor Class, which placed 5th at Badminton in 2022 and 2nd in 2019, as well as notching up wins at both Lexington and Burghley.
Irish rider Austin O’Connor on Colorado Blue climbed the leader board after cross country, moving from 34th after dressage to 2nd. But two rails plus time penalties on the last day moved him back to finish in 3rd position on 51.9 penalties.
Rosalind and Lordships Graffalo held their lead to the very end and were crowned winners of Badminton 2023 in what had been very challenging conditions. Ironically, just as she was presented with her trophy the heavens opened up … again! The diminutive Ros and 17.1hh Lordships Gruffalo have built a wonderful partnership, with the combination previously claiming individual 4th at the 2022 World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy.
Hot competition in Madrid
The Longines Global Champions Tour was held in Madrid over three days at the exclusive Club de Campo Villa de Madrid – and the atmosphere was electric. It was the 10th time the event, which has become one of the most popular sporting competitions in the world, has visited Madrid. Every year, the Tour attracts thousands of spectators who flock to watch the world’s best horses and riders in action.
The highlight in Madrid was Sunday’s Grand Prix, with the 1.60 metre class and a prize purse of €500,000 (over AU$800,000). Current World Number One Henrik Von Eckermann (SWE) on Iliana finished 6th with a rail down. World Number Two, Julien Epaillard (FRA) on Dubai Du Cedre took two rails and finished in 19th position.
The course proved to be extremely challenging with technical jumps and tricky lines testing the skills of all the riders. The rails kept falling with German rider Katrin Elkerman taking a tumble and four riders retired out of a field of 40.
Australian Edwina Tops-Alexander aboard Fellow Castlefield (by Je t’Aime Flamenco), took top honours. Edwina was the only rider out of the entire field to jump clear, staying within a hair’s breadth of the 78 second time limit with a round of 77.25 seconds. Denmark’s Andreas Schou jumped clear but was three hundredths of a second off the time with Darc de Lux. Jur Vrieling (FRA) and Long John Silver 3 N.O.P. also collected a time fault.
It was a tough course, and in the end no jump-off was required. As rail upon rail kept dropping, it was an epic victory for Edwina when she emerged as the eventual winner. The Australian national anthem played as she was awarded first place, a prize that included €165,000.00 (just on AD$271,500) out of the Grand Prix 1.60m prize pool.
Speaking to GCTV after her nail-biting win, she commented on the atmosphere at the event: “It’s just amazing, it’s electric. It’s so exciting, and the crowd is just incredible. I would like to thank Fellow’s owner Anthina Onassis. His last Grand Prix was at Valkenswagen in August last year. He then had a little setback and I needed to give him a little bit of time to build up his fitness. He’s not a particularly fast horse so I was quite worried. He spooked to number one … and then I was worried about my time. I had to stay really, really focused, and on top of it try to jump clear and be slick.”
Commenting on her Championship campaign she added: “The season is going really fast, but we take it show by show. Now we have a plan and we will try to stick to the plan, stay positive and try to get it done. So, let’s hope it goes in the right direction.”
Edwina has also collected her pass to the Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix in Prague in November. She will be hoping to repeat history when she won the first ever Longines Super Grand Prix back in 2018.
The fifth leg of this prestigious global circuit was held from 1st to 3rd June in Ramatuelle, Saint Tropez, on the glamorous French Riviera.
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Main image: Hector Payne with his Dutch-bred KWPN Dynasty.