Rosalind Canter was the star of a dramatic and thrilling day of cross-country sport at Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian.
The 2018 world champion has two show jumps in hand to win her first five-star after a stirring performance at the end of the day aboard Michelle Saul’s 11-year-old Lordships Graffalo, the runner-up at Badminton and fourth at the world championships in 2022.
Ros was only three seconds slower than experienced Irishman Austin O’Connor (riding Colorado Blue), whose best previous Badminton result was fourth in 1999 – in similarly boggy conditions. The pair were easily the fastest in the field, with 11.6 and 10.8 time penalties respectively, on a day when the sticky ground conditions exerted a toll on horses’ stamina.
Loud cheering greeted Ros and “Walter” as they galloped back into the arena. “We all love Walter, and he had to dig deeper today than ever before, but I think he had a nice day out,” said Ros. “I had the benefit of going round on my first horse [Pencos Crown Jewel, seventh – Ros was the only rider to get two horses round] so I knew where there was time to be saved.”
Austin, who has chances to be the first Irishman to win Badminton since Eddie Boylan in 1965, gave a masterclass of riding on “Salty” (Colorado Blue), one of the world’s most highly rated cross-country horses. “He’s an incredible horse and it’s a privilege to ride him. I started out thinking that what will be will be, but he relished the conditions and was loving it. I’m the luckiest rider in the world.”
Oliver Townend’s second ride, Ballaghmor Class, is one of the world’s greatest five-star horses, a winner of Burghley (2017), Kentucky (2021) and an Olympic gold medal (Tokyo 2021). They were the third fastest of the day (21.2 penalties) and are within a show jumping rail of Austin.
“I’ve had him since he was four – he’s now 16,” said Oliver, “and he definitely makes life more exciting for all of us. We’re proud to be associated with him. He’s a very special horse. These top-class horses love their jobs – you couldn’t make them do it if they didn’t want to.”
New Zealander Tim Price is fourth on Vitali, closely bunched with Tom McEwen (Toledo de Kerser, fifth), Gemma Stevens (Jalapeno, sixth) and Ros Canter’s other ride – she is the only competitor to complete on two horses – Pencos Crown Jewel, seventh.
Thirty combinations finished, and, as anticipated with the heavy going, some riders rose dramatically up the leaderboard. These include Bubby Upton, up 23 places to eighth on Cola, and three-time Badminton winner Pippa Funnell, up 30 places to ninth. France’s Luc Chateau, 11th on Viens du Mont, and Switzerland’s Felix Vogg (Carthania, 13th) are best of the Badminton first-timers and Aistis Vitkauskas, 27th on Commander VG, has made history as the first Lithuanian rider at Badminton.
Oliver Townend’s first ride, Swallow Springs, third after dressage, and Kitty King (Vendredi Biats) were among the high-profile casualties who did not complete on a challenging, but rewarding day of cross-country.
Badminton Director Jane Tuckwell summed up a day in which the weather tested everyone. “The conditions were difficult for everyone at Badminton Horse Trials this morning, but we would like to thank people for their patience and we hope you had a very happy day and enjoyed the wonderful day’s sport.”