Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials 2018 signals the last appearance here for the 18-year-old, multi-medal winning, double Olympic champion. We look back at his stellar career.
Michael Jung and Sam shot to prominence in 2009, the year of their senior team debut at the European Championships in Fontainbleau. It was a bad weekend for Germany, but not for Sam; he and Michael were the only German combination to complete the cross country, and one of only three pairs in total to make the optimum time. One showjump down on the final day cost Michael his first gold medal and the pair settled for bronze, behind Tina Cook and Piggy French.
Those in the know would not have been surprised. Bar his first two runs as a six-year-old, Sam hadn’t been placed lower than fifth in an international class; his results included eight wins out of 21 starts and the runner up spot at both the six- and seven-year-old world championships in Le Lion d’Angers. One of these wins was at his first ever ‘Four Star’ [the top level of the sport, matching that of Mitsubishi Motors Badminton] event, on home soil – Luhmuhlen – where Sam finished on his dressage score, an achievement he replicated on four further occasions.
With that bronze medal in the bag, Sam’s record only improved. He became World Champion at Lexington in 2010, with a nine penalty point advantage. At the end-of-event press conference, silver medallist William Fox-Pitt ruefully commented: “It was Michael first, rest of the world nowhere”.
Between March 2011 and March 2015, Sam started 17 international competitions. He won 10, was runner up four times and third three times. These results included victory at the European Championships in Luhmuhlen in 2011 and the London 2012 Olympic Games. After claiming the Olympic title, Sam became the first horse ever to hold World, European and Olympic titles simultaneously – on each occasion finishing on his dressage score.
In light of these extraordinary results Sam almost inconsequentially, in the scheme of things, placed runner up at Mitsubishi Motors Badminton 2013, missing victory with a light, and costly, tap of the final showjump.
This remarkable son of Stan The Man – a sire shared with Great Britain’s individual Olympic gold medal winning Shear L’Eau [Athens 2004, ridden by Leslie Law] – was not done yet. A lessening of his workload for 2014 while his stable mates took centre stage may have lulled his rivals into a false sense of security.
In 2015, with two Four Star third place finishes added to his record [Lexington and Luhmuhlen], Sam remained a serious contender – but still a winner? Michael had the last laugh. Despite breaking his ankle in a fall from his first ride, FisherRocana FST, at Burghley that year, he steered Sam to victory and secured the first leg of the Rolex Grand Slam.
The pair returned in 2016, all guns blazing. A win at Fontainbleau was swiftly followed by victory at Mitsubishi Motors Badminton – not only securing the Grand Slam [Michael had won the second leg in Kentucky a week earlier on FisherRocana FST] but rewriting the record books. In a year when less than half the Badminton field jumped clear across country – not taking time penalties in to account – Sam again finished on his dressage score, 34.4, the lowest winning score to date and nine points clear of his compatriot, Andreas Ostholt, in second place.
Although not Michael’s initial choice of partner for the Rio Olympics, when FisherTakinou sustained an injury the reliable Sam was called up. In true measure of the horse that he is, and has been to Michael, he nailed it again – again finishing on his dressage score, and again enjoying a comfortable winning margin of over seven penalties.
The pair was back at Badminton last year and, as in 2013, a rail down on the Sunday cost him a successful defence of his title and he was second again. Then at Burghley the unthinkable happened; on the second half of the course, Sam incurred 20 penalties on the cross country and Michael pulled up.
Whatever happens here at Mitsubishi Motors Badminton this week Sam is, without doubt, the most exceptional, most consistent event horse we have ever seen. Lucky Badminton to have one more opportunity to watch him compete for a final time at the very highest level.
What Michael says about Sam:
“We have a very good partnership for many years now, it is like he is my friend. We have grown up together and he has been a very important part of my career. We know each other very well, and although we haven’t always had the easiest time at every competition we have always had fun. Of course, I will miss competing him when he retires, but we will continue to enjoy ourselves training at home and on the gallops for a good while yet.”
Sam in numbers:
2 Olympic titles (London & Rio)
1 World title (Kentucky)
1 European title (Luhmuhlen)
1 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton win, plus two runner up spots
1 Burghley win
1 Luhmuhlen win
24 international wins