French rider Thibaut Vallette is in the lead after day one of the Mitsubishi Badminton Horse Trials.
It is the 43-year-old’s first time at Badminton, but he pulled off a confident performance on Qing Du Briot Ene HN to take the lead on a score of 38.7.
“I didn’t expect to do this well, so I am very happy,” said Thibaut. “Coming here is a dream for any eventer. This is the best dressage test the horse has done this year, as we had some difficulties after Rio – the experience made him very tense.”
Germany’s Bettina Hoy is currently lying second on 39.2 with Designer 10, the horse she came sixth on at Burghley last year.
“He’s the biggest trier and has the biggest heart of all the horses I’ve ever ridden,” said Bettina. “But this is definitely not a dressage competition, there is a lot to jump out there. I might have a sleepness night tonight!”
The surprise performance of the day came from the reigning Badminton champions Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW, who normally dominate the dressage. They had to settle for third place with a score of 40.0, although Michael said he was “very happy” with Sam’s performance.
“He was a bit nervous at the beginning, but then he concentrated,” he said. “There is a big atmosphere here, but he knows it from last year.”
“The cross-country is a tough course and you have to concentrate from beginning to finish, but the conditions are good and I’m looking forward to it.”
Highest placed Brits
Astier Nicholas and Piaf de B’Neville are fifth (41.5) while Mark Todd, who has won here four times, is sixth with Leonidas II (42.9).
The highest placed Brits are Badminton first-timer Alexander Bragg (pictured above) and Tom McEwen, who are in joint sixth place (44.6). Alex is a farrier by trade and he completed his first four-star last year at Burghley and went on to come fifth at Pau on Zagrab, the horse he’s competed on today.
“I was just thinking about the test and I was a third of the way through when I thought, ‘We are in main arena doing this!’ I didn’t put too much pressure on the horse as he’s not done this many times and I wanted him to enjoy it.
“Our score puts us in the mix – I know there are some top guys coming tomorrow, but as long as we are in with a shout I’m happy. Eric builds very positive courses and I’m quite a committed rider. I’ve had Zagreb from the start and he’s never said no to me, so hopefully we’ll have a good round on Saturday.”
Also riding tomorrow are H&C stars Danielle Dunn and Becky Woolven – who are both competing at Badminton for the first time. Danielle has already enjoyed a win at the four-star show, as she won the ladies’ best dressed prize in the trot-up. Her stunning outfit was designed by Helena Smith from CharlestonCouture, especially for the occasion.
Tomorrow, the second half of the field of 82 riders will perform their dressage tests, with strong performances anticipated from Karin Donckers, Izzy Taylor, Ingrid Klimke, Christopher Burton and both Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson on their second horses.