Badminton horse trials: Townend loses lead during exciting cross-country phase

Cross-country top three: Jonelle Price (centre), Oliver Townend and Ros Canter

Cross-country top three: Jonelle Price (centre), Oliver Townend and Ros Canter

New Zealand’s Jonelle Price has risen to the top of the leaderboard at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials following an exciting cross-country phase today (Saturday 5 May).

Britain’s Oliver Townend is still poised for success, though, lying second overnight with Ballaghmor Class.

Oliver finished on the same score as Jonelle but was further away from the optimum time. When a penalty score matches, the horse closest to the cross-country optimum time is placed highest.

Jonelle and Classic Moet pulled off by far the quickest round of the day for only 0.4 of a time penalty.

“In all fairness to the mare, she shouldn’t have even been one over — I made a mistake at the Lake,” said Jonelle, who was forced to take a long route in the Lake when the mare jumped in very boldy. “She’s very fast and she makes me look good — I dread the day she retires.”

Jonelle is back riding at this level after having her first child, a son called Otis, in the autumn.

“I was worried I might be rusty and she might be too, after only having one run so far this season [due to the wet weather],” added Jonelle. “She’s an incredible horse, very fast, and I’m sure I’ll never ride another like her.”

Jonelle added that Classic Moet is “a little unorthodox” in her jumping style and the mare is known to knock down a showjump. But with less than a fence separating the top four horses, pressure will be piled on during tomorrow’s final showjumping phase.

Oliver also jumped clear with his first ride, Cooley SRS, who lies fifth overnight. He was given an official warning by the ground jury for over-use of his whip on both horses.

“Two in the top five at Badminton — it’s not bad,” said the Yorkshireman. “I’ve had both these horses and [last week’s Kentucky CCI4* winner] Cooley Master Class since they were four-year-olds and I’m very proud of them.”

Oliver is in contention for the Rolex Grand Slam — worth US$350,000 — if he wins Badminton, following back-to-back victories at Burghley 2017 (on Ballaghmor Class) and Kentucky 2018. The three CCI4* contests have to be won consecutively for it to count.

“I take each phase as it comes and we’re a long way from [the Rolex Grand Slam] yet — I know what it takes to be competitive here,” he said pragmatically

Ros Canter is in third place following a speedy clear aboard Allstar B.

“He really had to dig deep today and keep fighting. [Our round] was much more of a battle than ever before,” said Ros, who has showjumped clear with this horse on their last six outings.

“He tired for the first time ever today so I’m going to give myself a bit of breathing space and say I might not be sat on the horse I normally would be tomorrow,” she cautioned.

Germany’s Michael Jung and his superstar La Biosthetique Sam FBW are the fourth combination within a fence of the top spot.

The rest of the overnight top 10 are: Mark Todd (Kiltubrid Rhapsody, sixth), America’s Lauren Kieffer (Veronica, seventh), Britain’s Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul, eighth) and Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy (Mr Chunky, 9th).

Mark Todd also has his Rio Olympics partner Leonidas II in 10th.

Badminton’s final showjumping phase takes place tomorrow (Sunday 6 May) and will be shown live on BBC Red Button. There will be a highlights programme on BBC2 at 5.30pm. Come back to for more news and stories tomorrow.