Friday, 30 April 2010

First Inspection Day down at Badminton Horse Trials 2010

Badminton really does generate an atmosphere like no other horse trials does, a real buzz is always in the air, and I think you'd be hard pushed to replicate the magic formula they are using, but I suspect the Duke's enthusiasm has a lot to do with it.

Thursday's First Inspection Day started a little grey and overcast, and unfortunately only got worse (in terms of weather), when by mid morning the rain had set in. This really didn't dampen any spirits and the cross country course was awash with people walking the course.

The trot up itself drew a decent crowd although press and photographer numbers were noticeably down, I can only assume the Credit Crunch is still biting in media circles.

In my last post I was probably a little harsh on the cross country course, and whilst the main thrust of my point in that post was the lack of imagination used in devising the course (I still stand by that!), having walked it once more there are some very interesting nuances that only really come to light once you see the course in its polished state. For example on approaching the lake the Mitsubishi Pick Ups are jumped and almost on landing you need to turn sharp left to take the 'fast' route through the lake over a narrow wicker fence.

I think this is going to catch out a few ambitious riders who will either glance off the narrow fence or have no option but to take the 'longer' route. Personally I think it will be entirely possible to make the time using the longer route as long as you have your horse organised going through the water. I wouldn't be surprised if a horse goes for a deep swim trying this longer route though.

The Colt Pond is still my 'bogey' fence though. The angle is so acute over the two brush fences it's very tempting to glance off one of them. Small nimble horses should fair best here. The bigger horses will need to slow the pace right down, which given the vicarage vee comes next is not ideal.

Anyway Dressage tomorrow, but more interestingly it's Grassroots cross country day. I did have a little wander over to look at their dressage and was impressed by the dedication of the competitors to their warm up and tests, if also a little amused at the eclectic mix of horses, ponies and riders, something you're really not used to seeing at Badminton. Still what a treat for both them and us.

more tomorrow.......

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Badminton Horse Trials 2010 Cross Country Course - More of the Same

It's Press Junket Day for Badminton, as they unveil the cross country course to media with a drive around the Deer Park in Mitsubishi 4x4s.

The Press Release from today talks of accuracy being the key to success on this year's course, which in itself is nothing new for any 3 or 4 star event, and I can't help but be a little disappointed that there is nothing really new on the course and hasn't been for some years.

Here's how I read the course:

The first and last fence haven't changed in essence for a number of years.

The first 'test' comes in the Quarry, but here again a number of tried and tested logs provide the obstacles with no real visionary change (down one side, up and down the other side of the quarry). Yes it may well catch out the odd inexperienced rider as it did in 2008 (Dee Kennedy), but it's a safe 3 star fence complex, up to height but not imposing.

Huntsmans Close follows the quarry and here again there is nothing new, yes it will cause some problems for the inexperienced but it's been like this for some years now. It is a 4 star question though.

Over those now familiar Wadworth Barrels and onto the lake. and here once more there is little imagination for what is generally considered the show piece fence complex, another 'safe' 3 star option.

Over the bizarre roofed table and onto the Sunken Road, where I have to say I think the first real test lies, the profile and position of these 'egg' shaped obstacles requires riders to have gathered up their mounts after the long gallop down to ensure they don't fall into the road or glance off the cleverly designed eggs.

On down to the Farmyard, and here's once more nothing to get excited about, two corners on curving stride, something we've seen in this spot for some ten years now, hardly inspired.

The Pond I'll admit does bring a little variation to an old theme, and at this point in the course I think it will catch out more than one experienced rider. Essentially 2 brush fences must be negotiated on an acute angle either side of the pond. But it's not a masterpiece for spectators to marvel at.

The Vicarage Vee I've always thought was a clever use of the natural landscape and does deserve it's place in the 4 star annuals.

The Bank hasn't changed in some 10 years and another 'safe' 3 star fence, followed by another spread fence over the ditch.

The Shogun Hollow brings a tried and tested combination together, which is rather dull and not that difficult for those concentrating. It's also a place to take the longer alternative if you're worried about the corner as you have plenty of galloping ahead of you to make up the time. Again, a little uninspired and something we've seen so many times before without the wow factor.

On over the Shooting Butt that is less imposing from the back of a horse than you may think and onto the corral. Here's where I think they've really missed an opportunity, as it's as straightforward as a novice fence, and when you look back to the 1980's & 1990's you'll find much better examples of this theme were here at Badminton.

The staircase is a test of the brute strength needed to climb it, but once again this hasn't really changed in 10 years - safe.

The last fence worth mentioning is the Owl Hole and Double Logs, and the only reason someone might have a problem here is if their horse is knackered out. A quick glance at your watch will tell if you should take the alternative at the logs or just take it steady. So late in the course no one will be rushing this fence anyway, so again, it's another safe 3 star fence.

Don't get me wrong, all of these fences are up to height, and it's a long enough course to make it a 4 star event, I'm just a little disappointed that for a Global Showpiece Event like Badminton the whole thing is a little uninspired and safe. A good year to be a Badminton first timer.

Perhaps in another post I'll make a few suggestions for next year.

Now what is interesting about this year's Badminton is the Grassroots Championship and how much of that course sits along side the main course. This, I'm sure, will prove very challenging for the amateurs, but more on that in another post.

Monday, 5 April 2010

It's April - That means Badminton mania

Thank goodness it's April - better weather, the start of better Events, and the build up to Badminton. Now I happened to walk through Badminton Park the other day and as much as I love this event, and it clearly is the greatest 3-day-event, for me it's starting to get a little dull where the course is concerned.

This year's course, from what I can make out, has no truly new fences. Just about every fence on the course is a repurposed fence from the last 5 years. With such a rich history I would have expected a few fences from the dim and distance past to re-emerge. You've only to search the web for some previous footage of Badminton through the ages to see a number of fences that we've not seen at Badminton for more than a decade - like a ski jump, unfinished bridge, or the famous chevrons.

I predict there will be no more than one fence that has had some serious external influence, the rest will be repetitions from the last few years, what a shame.