British Olympian Oliver Townend predicted that Badminton wouldn’t be decided in the dressage ring. He was partly correct.

Rosalind Canter (GBR) holds onto the lead with His Lordships Graffalo after cross country but only four of the overnight top 10 after dressage still have a fighting chance at the CCI5*-L title.

Cross country day at Badminton dawned bright and dry, and the going was not as deep as many feared. Perhaps it was the lack of match practice—many spring events were abandoned in the UK this year due to adverse weather—but less than half of those placed in the dressage got to the finishing line of the cross country. 

Saturday’s heavy rains led course designer Eric Winter to make some slight alterations to the course. The B element of the Lemieux Mound (Fence 17) was removed, as was the A element of the Horsequest Quarry (Fence 27) and the water level in the Badminton Lake (Fence 21) was lowered. But the optimum time, time allowed and distance remained unchanged.

“As the ground dried out it became more sticky which tired the horses out, but I was generally very pleased with how the course rode,” said Winter post competition.

“I had a lot of brickbats before today about my rails going into the water but it actually jumped very well. Dan Jocelyn’s horse [Cooley One To Many] was out on its feet when it jumped through that fence but the rail fell down and got out of the way and the horse trotted through the water and was perfectly okay. That’s what we want to see in the sport, we don’t want to see horses sprawled on the ground!”

World no. 1 Tim Price (NZL) and his first horse, Vitali, went into an early lead. But, with 24 time penalties, they had a tenuous hold on it at best. They ended up fourth ahead of the final phase.

Making the biggest move on the day was Ireland’s Austin O’Connor, who stormed across country on his Olympic and World Championship ride Colorado Blue, notching up the fastest time of the day to finish with 10.8 time faults. Climbing from 34th place after dressage, his lead remained unchallenged until the very end of the day when Rosalind Canter (GBR).

Rosalind Canter and Lordships Graffalo in the lead after XC, Badminton 2023. ©Helen Revington

The EquiRatings’ favorite rode a sublime round on His Lordships Graffalo to finish nine marks ahead of O’Connor. She now has a sizeable two rail lead going into Monday’s show jumping and 98% win chance, according to EquiRatings.

“He had to dig a bit deeper today than has done before but he answered every question and I think he just had a nice day out,” said Canter. “I had the benefit of having an early round on Pencos Crown Jewel [lying seventh after cross country] so I was fairly confident that there was time to be saved. I was pretty aware that I wouldn’t get inside the time but I was pushing as hard as I could—the ground was definitely more holding as the day went on and it dried out.”

Townend’s first ride of the day, on third placed Swallow Springs ended in disappointment as they were eliminated at the 24th fence, having already survived a hair-raising moment when banking the second element of the Mars M Tables and breaking the frangible pin.

However, Ballaghmor Class gave Townend a superlative ride to climb into third place overnight.

“I’m the luckiest rider in the world. We are all very proud and privileged to be associated with him. I’ve had him since he was four-years-old, he’s sixteen now and we know each other inside out,” said an emotional Townend.

“Top class horses love their job. Mine’s very similar to me—if he didn’t have his eventing he would be an absolute nightmare to handle!”

Tom McEwan (GBR) held on to his fifth place with Toledo De Kerser and Gemma Stevens (GBR) only fell two places to lie sixth on Jalepeno.

Eleven horses retired on the cross country, 17 were eliminated, and six were withdrawn after dressage, including Laura Collett’s Dacapo, who had lain seventh after dressage, Tim Price’s ride Coup De Coeur Dudevin (ninth) and Harry Meade’s Tenareze (tenth).

Now the grooms start their hardest work of the week, making sure their charges are in tip top condition for Monday’s trot up, ahead of the final show jumping phase.

Feature image: ©Helen Revington