Rosalind Canters to Glory at a Very Soggy Badminton.
The famous Badminton Horse Trials (supported by Mars Equestrian) 2023 clashed with the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, a regular visitor to the trials over the past few years. This meant that some awkward decisions for the event team needed to be made. In the end, the decision was to keep the weekend date but to move everything back one day meaning that the cross country day would now be on the Sunday rather than the Saturday and the event would conclude on the Monday rather than the usual Sunday finish.
Like all coronation days for the last 120 years, the weather was wet, cold and pretty inclement. In the week preceding the trials, like everywhere else in the country, the rain kept coming with inches of rain falling onto the course making it very wet and energy sapping for the horses.
Normally, there are in the region of ninety runners lining up for the first trot up, but this year, there was a much reduced field of only sixty four. Another big difference this year was that there was no ‘wait list’; this we believe is the first time there has been no ‘wait list’ for the Badminton Horse Trials for at least twenty years.
In the trot up, all the horses presented were passed to compete, at least in the dressage section. At the end of the first day’s dressage, which saw the majority of competitors take part, Oliver Townend riding Swallow Springs was in pole position with a score of 23.2 penalties. The second day saw the leader board change a little with Rosalind Canter riding Lordships Graffalo going into the cross country faze as the leader with 22.1 penalties. Kitty King riding Vendredi Biats was on 23.3 penalties, in second, splitting the points between Rosalind on and Oliver. The top five places were very tight with Gemma Stevens (nee Tattersall) riding Jalapeno in fourth just 0.1 penalty behind Oliver Townend and in in fifth, Tom McEwan riding Toledo de Kerser in fifth on 23.6 penalties. In sixth was Townend, riding his second horse, Ballaghmor Class, closely followed by Laura Collett on Dacapo who finished her dressage on 25.2 penalties. William Fox Pitt and world number one Tim Price finished eighth and ninth, both within just one fence of the leader. The first competitor outside that magical one fence was Harry Mead riding Tenareze on 26.9 penalties finishing in tenth on the leader board.
Cross Country day itself was dry, the first dry day at Badminton for some days which made the course very wet and holding, especially as the day went on and the ground started to dry out a bit. This was always going to be a tough test for both horse and rider and there was always going to be unexpected riders being either retired or eliminated. Laura Collett was the first in the top ten as she decided not to run and withdrew before the cross country started. Harry Mead took the same decision along with another four riders meaning that the field of 64 was now down to just 58 cross country starters, the lowest number for many many years. The trail blazer was Wills Oakden riding Oughterard Cooley who rode a careful course, but did finish clear, although he collected 28 penalties for time. As it turned out, not one rider completed the course within the time allowed of 11 minutes 45 seconds. Oakden’s time was 90 seconds outside the time allowed giving him a final score after the cross country of 62.9 penalties. However, he finished the cross country in 14th place after starting the day in 50th. Another early starter was Oliver Townend on Swallow Springs, who failed to jump the second table before the lake properly. The horse ended up jumping on the table and smashing the safety pins and collecting 11 penalties. Swallow Springs was very tired, as were a lot of the runners by now, (the lake being near the end of the course). Clearly this course was going to take some jumping and riders were going to have to ride their horses to be able to reserve enough energy to complete. Swallow Springs was forced to retire by the fence judges as it was deemed he was too tired to complete – most unusual for an Oliver Townend horse not to be fit enough. As it was clear that most riders would be a good minute or more over the time allowed, riders ignored their watches and time points, just to try to get round with a clear. In the end only thirty of the original starters competed.
Probably the round of the whole cross country day was by Ireland’s Austin O’Connor riding Colorado Blue. The pair went round early and ended with a clear round jumping and over the time by just 27 seconds. He moved up from 34th place after the dressage on the leader board to finish the day in second place. Rose Canter, who was in the lead after the dressage also had a great round in the circumstances riding her well known Lordships Graffolo. She ended the day retaining her place at the top of the leader board with clear jumping and 11 time faults. This gave her a lead going into the showjumping of a massive and we believe record 9 penalty points ahead of the rest of the field – over two fence advantage. The third leader after the cross country was Oliver Townend on his second and well know ride Ballaghmor Class on 45.9 penalties, three fences behind the leader.
On the final day, there were no exclusions of the thirty horses in the trot up. All passed the vet, despite the gruelling conditions of the cross country. Despite the wet conditions, the ground in the main arena stood up really well, but the time allowed of 75 seconds was too tight for many of the 30 riders. The first ten riders went in the morning session and provided no real surprises. The tight time was creating difficulties for all of them and most had at least a fence down. The two American riders faired the best in the first session as the only jumping clear came from Katherine Coleman, but she was just over the time allowed and collected 0.4 penalties – finishing on a score of 94.2. The second from America, who was the only one to get the time, had one fence down – Lillian Heard-Wood; she ended with a total of 91.5.
By the time the afternoon session started for the final twenty riders, the rain came down in torrents yet again. Going in reverse order of the leader board, with the leader going last, the order changed only slightly. Austin O’Connor had four fences down, adding another 16 faults to his score plus some time, and dropped him into third place with 51.9 penalties to finish. Oliver Townend also had three fences down plus time, but was just able to overhaul O’Connor finishing on 50.3 penalties and in second place. When Rosalind Canter came in as the last to go, she had a massive five fence advantage. In the event, she jumped clear, but was 4 seconds over the time, adding just 1.6 points to her overnight score. She won the title by the biggest margin on record.
Images courtesy Badminton TV and Goldeneye Photography