Nicolas Touzaint held on to win the second leg of the 2008 HSBC Classics in a nail-biting finish to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials this afternoon. And the reigning European Champion made history as the first-ever Frenchman to take the title and the first European to hold the trophy since 1951.
In the emotional aftermath he galloped around the arena with Hildago de L'Ile with fist raised - and then he burst into tears. "To win this has always been a dream" he said, "it is just as important to me as the European titles and the Olympic medal - I'm very, very happy" he said.
Lucy Wiegersma filled second place with Shabraak and William Fox-Pitt took third for the home side with Ballincoola, and to round up the internationalism New Zealand's Caroline Powell, whose performances with both of her rides were impressive, slotted into fourth with the Lenamore. This was a Badminton to remember for all the right reasons, and there was an air of euphoria at the Gloucestershire showground.
As if Saturday's drama-filled cross-country phase had not been exciting enough, today's final show jumping test went right down to the wire but, despite a single error, the man who will celebrate his 28th birthday next Saturday held fast. The 13-fence track, created jointly by course-designer Jon Doney and Technical Delegate Guiseppe della Chiesa, proved troublesome and only three of the 54 final phase starters managed to leave it intact.
Mary King showed them all how it should be done with a great round from the 11 year old gelding Imperial Cavalier who had been going so superbly until decanting her at the penultimate cross-country fence yesterday, but she was the only one of the morning group to keep a clean sheet. As the top 20 took their turn in the afternoon the clears proved just as hard to achieve and 13 entered the ring before Britain's Sharon Hunt found the key with Tankerstown only for Powell and Lenamore to follow suit. Lying eighth and seventh respectively they piled the pressure on the remaining six and Oliver Townend lost his grip on sixth spot with three fences on the floor and three time penalties. His Badminton completion was still quite an achievement for the 25 year old Briton who was a member of the winning European Championship team at Pratoni del Vivaro in Italy last year however, because he broke his collarbone just two weeks ago and was battling agonising pain by the time he crossed the line with Coup de Coeur yesterday.
Georgie Davies was next to go with Fachoudette who was one of only two horses to stay clear on cross-country day but three show jumps down sent them plummeting down the order and with just four to go the spotlight fell on William Fox-Pitt and Ballincoola. A single mistake from this experienced partnership gave the last three some leeway but when Polly Stockton and Tom Quigley, who recorded the second of those cross-country clears, collected 14 faults he moved up to third. Lucy Wiegersma had a powerful support-group in the warm-up ring including show jumping trainer Peter Murphy, long-time coach Caroline Creighton and British Team Manager Yogi Breisner so she was under no illusions about what she had to do. Her father was also on hand - "he's always very free with his advice!" the 31 year old rider from Cornwall said afterwards. "Remember you're a Cornish bird and ride like a Cornish show jumper" he told her as she entered the arena.
Hitting the second fence she thought to herself - "oh, no, I've another 15 to jump yet!" but she kept her cool to add no more and now, although she had given Touzaint a one-fence breathing space, he knew his back was up against the wall.
However this is a young man with great self-belief. He first won the individual European title at Punchestown in Ireland in 2003, took team gold at the Olympic Games in Athens the following year, and won team silver at the Europeans in Blenheim in 2005 before taking his second European title last year. Today's ride, Hidalgo de L'Ile however, has a checkered history in the show jumping ring - at Fontainbleau earlier this season hitting five fences in the closing stages. So what had he done to improve the horse's performance in this discipline in the intervening period? "I changed the bit from a double-bridle to a pelham and I kept my fingers crossed!" he said.
When the second element of the double fell you could hear a pin drop in the Badminton arena, but he would make no further mistakes and when he galloped through the finish he threw his arms in the air in sheer delight.
Badminton bounced back in style this year.
There were only two horse falls in Saturday's cross-country phase - dressage leader Andrew Hoy's Moonfleet hitting the deck early on the track at Huntsmans Close and second-placed Ruth Edge taking a ducking in the Lake a few fences later but there were plenty of dismounted riders. One of these was Dee Kennedy who took a nasty fall from from Big El at the Quarry at fence four and Event Director, Hugh Thomas, said yesterday that he expected the rider to remain at nearby Frenchay Hospital for "a few days".
Thomas admitted that some tough lessons were learned following the 2007 Badminton fiasco when 22 riders, one-third of the field, pulled out due to poor ground conditions. A lot of work has gone into the course since then however and the much-improved cross-country going this year was widely praised by the riders. In reflective mood Thomas said today "yes, the ground was good and in two to three years it will be even better. Last year was very traumatic, but I'm very proud of all my team. Out of adversity we have all drawn strength and I believe we have put Badminton back where it belongs" he pointed out.
Today it belonged to a Frenchman who now shares pole position with Kentucky winner Philip Dutton on the HSBC FEI Classics leaderboard going into the third round of the series in Luhmuhlen, Germany next month......
1, Hildago de l'Ile (Nicolas Touzaint) Fra 48.4;
2, Shaabrak (Lucy Wiegersma) GBR 49.8;
3, Ballincoola (William Fox-Pitt) GBR 52.1;
4, Lenamore (Caroline Powell) NZL 52.8;
5, Tankerstown (Sharon Hunt) GBR 54.9;
6, Tom Quigley (Polly Stockton) GBR 59.7;
7, Opposition Buzz (Nicola Wilson) GBR 59.8;
8, Bonza Puzzle (Matt Ryan) Aus 60.3;
9, Hope Street (Daisy Dick) GBR 61.3;
10, Fachoudette (Georgie Davies) GBR 61.6;
11, Apache Sauce (Mary King) GBR 64.5;
12, Coup de Coeur (Oliver Townend) GBR 64.6;
13, Midnight Dazzler (Harry Meade) GBR 66.2;
14, Zin Zan 11 (Rodney Powell) GBR 73.4;
15, Fairfax (Rodolphe Scherer) Fra 74.3;
16, Glenbuck (Zara Phillips) GBT 78.2;
17, Black Drum (Annabel Wigley) NZL 78.7;
18, Tamarillo (William Fox-Pitt) GBR 78.9;
19, Ardfield Magic Star (Zara Phillips) GBR 79.8;
20, Ease on Fire (Joe Meyer) NZL 79.9;
21, Barry's Best (Rosie Thomas) GBR 83.5;
22, Mac Macdonald (Caroline Powell) NZL 84.6;
23, Harry (Bruno Bouvier) Fra 91.8;
24, Silence (Dan Jocelyn) NZL 93.0;
25, Drivetime (Emily Baldwin) GBR 94.3;
26, Connigar Bay (Sam Griffiths) GBR 96.9;
27, Monarch's Rock (Beanie Sturgis) GBR 97.6;
28, Inonothing (Paul Tapner) GBR 98.7;
29, Looks Like Fun (Vicky Brake) GBR 99.4;
30, Running Brook (Georgie Spence) GBR 99.6;
31, Birthday Night (Harry Meade) GBR 103.4;
32, Black Andy (Joe Meyer) NZL 104.0;
33, Special Attorney (Dan Jocelyn) NZL 104.1;
34, Old Road (Michael Ryan) Irl 107.4;
35, Spring Along (Daisy Dick) GBR 109.1;
36, Valdemar (Hannah Bate) GBR 113.9;
37, Master Blaster (Jade Lazenby) GBR 114.8;
38, Little Tiger (Phoebe Buckley) GBR 115.0;
39, Little Beau (Charlotte Agnew) GBR 117.8;
40, Crown Alliance (Emily Galbraith) GBR 120.2;
41, Art Attack (Jayne Doherty) Irl 131.4;
42, Imperial Cavalier (Mary King) GBR 132.2;
43, What If (Neil Fox) GBR 136.7;
44, Bit of a Barney (Louise Skelton) GBR 136.7;
45, Kincluny (Sarah Wardell) Irl 138.4;
46, Teveri (Amanda Ratcliffe) GBR 142.5;
47, Hunters Legend (Dominic Ruane) GBR 146.2;
48, Fox on the Run (Richard Jones) GBR 148.3;
49, Park Pageboy (Clare Lewis) GBR 159.0;
50, Ava (Susanna Bordone) Ita 168.8;
51, Southern Ben (Emily Butcher) GBR 181.0;
52, Highleadon (Tor Brewer) GBR 187.1;
53, The Biz (Heidi Woodhead) GBR 207.4;
54, Patris Filius (Olivia Haddow) GBR 212.6.
STANDINGS AFTER FIRST TWO LEGS OF SERIES IN KENTUCKY AND BADMINTON:
1. Philip Dutton/Nicolas Touzaint - 15 points
2. Becky Holder/Lucy Wiegersma - 12
3. Missy Ransehousen/William Fox-Pitt - 10
4. Stephen Bradley/Caroline Powell - 8
5. Kim Severson/Sharon Hunt - 6
6. Karen O'Connor/Polly Stockton - 5
7. Jennifer Wooton/Nicola Wilson - 4
8. Boyd Martin/Matt Ryan - 3
9. Cammy O'Rourke/Daisy Dick - 2
10. Mike Winter/Georgie Davies - 1
The HSBC FEI CLASSICS is a new FEI series linking the five 4-Star Eventing competitions currently on the international calendar.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS 2008:
1, Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event (USA) 24-27 April; 2, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR) 1-4 May; 3, Luhmuhlen CCI**** presented by EON (Ger) 12-15 June; 4, Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR) 4-7 September; 5, FINAL - Les Etoiles de Pau (FRA) 22-26 October.
Points will be awarded to the top ten riders at each event as follows:
1st: 15 points
2nd: 12 points
3rd: 10 points
4th: 8 points
5th: 6 points
6th : 5 points
7th: 4 points
8th: 3 points
9th: 2 points
10th: 1 point
HSBC will contribute US$1million to the series over the next three years. At the end of each season, the five riders with the greatest number of points will be awarded PRIZE-MONEY as follows:
Series Champion - US$ 150,000; 2nd - US$ 75,000; 3rd - US$ 50,000; 4th - US$ 33,333; 5th - US$ 25,000.
This represents the biggest prize pot on offer in the sport of eventing on an annual basis.