Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Badminton 2013: Can You Afford To Miss It?

The Official Mitsubishi Vehicles Lined Up For Press Day At Badminton

Michael Jung: Olympic, European & World Champion
One year on and the course may not have changed much from last year's ill-fated event, but there are a few changes, albeit perhaps not as many as Hugh Thomas would have liked. The competitive landscape of entries has changed enormously though. "Eventmeister", Michael Jung is set to run his best two horses at his first ever Badminton, to realise a boyhood dream of competing on the hallowed turf in a bid to seal his name amongst the legends of the sport by winning the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials trophy.

William Fox-Pitt is likely to have two shots at winning the elusive Rolex Grand Slam from his current line up of 5 entries, in order to complete his scrap book of wins outside of the championships. There is every possibility, however slim, that he could be joined by Andrew Nicholson as a challenger for the Grand Slam if Andrew were to win at Rolex Kentucky in a few weeks time.

From memory we usually have many more drop out of the entry list by this stage, so there are plenty of riders who in a normal year (2012 was no normal year!) would be further up the pecking order of the waitlist, and are currently nervously watching the entry list praying to get a run.

This will be a year like no other in Badminton's history, and last year's cancellation combined with the euphoria of the London 2012 olympics has clearly energised the Badminton following with advanced ticket sales at record levels this year. There really are no excuses for not being here come the first weekend in May.

The Badminton Entry List

As for the few changes to the course from last year, here's what I make of those:

The Sunken Road has had the "Darleks"  replaced by some pretty straightforward looking fences retrieved from the "Marketplace" fence at Greenwhich. Only problem I see here is the first one is pitched right on the top of a steep slope on the landing side. This isn't an upright so you're not going to be able to just gently pop over it, and you can't attack it or you'll end up in a heap at the bottom of the sunken road, so it's all about judging the pace of entry into this complex just right, and remember this comes after a good gallop down from the lake. The remaining elements are a steering job!

The Farmyard has had a minor repositioning of the Haycart so that you ride the Haycart to open corner on three curving strides. Corners, especially open corners can often be tricky on curving lines. The change here makes it easier to maintain rhythm, but until you've walked this on cross country day you don't really appreciate the biggest challenge at Badminton - the crowd! This complex is a crowd puller, and that's a huge distraction for both horse and rider.

The Mirage Pond looks easy and shouldn't be the biggest influence on course, particularly for a fit, well trained horse. You run through the pond and pop over two acutely angled brush fences. Two small considerations here, one - the approach to the fences coming out of the water is limited and neither a step or a slope so as long as you're not running flat through the water is ok. Secondly the 1 stride distance between the two brushes is a big stride so this needs to be attacked, and considering this is an intense part of the course is probably just as well.

Other than these the only meaningful differences are:

The narrow 'log piles' at the top of the Savills' Staircase have been replaced with 'skinny brushes', equally narrow, but now deep. The fast route is "Runout City" for tired horses.

The two logs at the Rolex Crossing have been replaced with watch boxes (the box you'd get get when you buy a watch). These I think will make for great photos, and I guess there'll be plenty of William Fox-Pitt taken at this fence.

All that being said, if I was a spectator this year, I'd be heading for the ISH Studbook Huntsman's Close where the trickiest fence I've ever seen in here is placed, and has got to catch a few enthusiastic riders out so early on course. I'd also head down to vicarage fields to take a look at the World Horse Welfare Footbridge, which I think will be impressive to watch, and also the Outlander Bank which takes up a whole lot of sky when you walk towards it. (This is the one I'd have sleepless nights over).  Don't forget the lake too.

The Virtual Fly-Through:

Hugh Thomas' Video Course Preview:

The Official Course Description

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