There is always an extra frisson of excitement surrounding the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR), fourth leg of the FEI Classics™ 2015/2016, in an Olympic year, and 2016 will be no exception as the historic event has received an exceptionally star-studded entry from 14 nations.
In modern times, Olympic champions Mark Todd (NZL), Matt Ryan (AUS), Blyth Tait (NZL), David O’Connor (USA), Leslie Law (GBR) and Hinrich Romeike (GER), along with many other Olympic medalists had all won, or been highly placed, at the world’s oldest CCI4*. As Event Director Hugh Thomas says: “No rider ever got left off an Olympic team for winning Badminton!”
This year’s field ranges from the experience of 62-year-old former world champion Jean Teulère (FRA), riding Matelot du Val, and 60-year-old Sir Mark Todd (Leonidas ll), bidding for his seventh Olympic appearance at Rio, to first-timers, including Danish amateur rider Hanne Wind Ramsgaard (Vestervangs Arami) who works full-time in the renewable energy business, and 20-year-old Emily King (Brookleigh, GBR), the youngest competitor entered and daughter of six-time Olympian Mary King.
Blyth Tait (Bear Necessity V, NZL) is back at Badminton for the first time in 13 years - he has finished runner-up here three times - and leading American rider Boyd Martin (Cracker Jack) makes his very first visit.
Zara Tindall (GBR), another former world champion and on the bronze medal winning team at London 2012, will be trying to return to the British team for Rio with High Kingdom, which spent last season on the sidelines after sustaining an injury at Kentucky.
She will face strong competition for a team place in Rio from fellow British riders Izzy Taylor, Gemma Tattersall, Nicola Wilson, Laura Collett, Kristina Cook and Oliver Townend, and the home crowd especially will be willing Alice Dunsdon (GBR) to finish on Fernhill Present - if they do so, Dunsdon will be the first rider to complete the world’s six CCI4*s on the same horse.
German superstar Michael Jung - the reigning Olympic champion and current FEI Classics™ 2015/2016 leader - is fresh from his back-to-back victory on FischerRocana in Kentucky last weekend. He will ride his 2015 Burghley winner La Biosthetique Sam, and will be bidding for the elusive Rolex Grand Slam hat-trick.
His compatriots Bettina Hoy (Designer 10), has been going brilliantly on the British circuit this spring and Andreas Ostholt (So Is Et) and Andreas Dibowski (FRH Butts Avedon) also have winning credentials for Badminton.
In many people’s eyes, however, Jung’s fiercest challenge in Badminton looks likely to come from ‘Down Under’ in the shape of New Zealand’s supremely talented ‘first couple’, Tim and Jonelle Price (Ringwood Sky Boy and Classic Moet), or the stylish Christopher Burton (AUS) with Haruzac or Nobilis 18.
A total of 80 horses will be trotted up at the first Horse Inspection this afternoon (4.30pm local time). The action then starts tomorrow when Oliver Townend is first into the Dressage arena at 9.00am (local time).
FEI Classics™ 2015/2016 Leaderboard (after 3 of 6 events)
1 Michael Jung (GER) 27 points
2 Astier Nicolas (FRA) 15
3 Shane Rose (AUS) 15
4 Lauren Kieffer (USA) 12
5 Maya Black (USA) 10
6 Tim Price (NZL) 10
7 Clarke Johnstone (NZL) 10
8 Phillip Dutton (USA) 8
9 Emily King (GBR) 8
10 Sonja Johnston (AUS) 8