April 21, 2011--The HSBC FEI Classics? 2011, an exciting series linking five of the world?s top level events, begins in style today (Thursday 21 April - Monday 25 April) at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR).
The first crucial qualifier for the 2012 London Olympic Games has attracted arguably the strongest international field for many years with representatives from 11 nations and seven former winners entered.
Three Americans are vying for the 2011 title, teammates from the Land Rover/U.S. Eventing Team from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games last year: veterans Karen O'Connor will ride Joan Goswell's Mandiba and Buck Davidson brings BallyNoe Castle RM for Carl and Cassandra Segal. Jennifer Wooten-Dafoe also made the trip from California with Daisy Tognazzi's The Good Witch for her first try at the Badminton title.
Oliver Townend (GBR), 28, the 2009 victor, wasn?t even born when the double Olympic champion Mark Todd (NZL), 55, made his Badminton debut - and won - 31 years ago. Both riders have been in dominant form on the British national circuit this spring. Townend rides the grey Ashdale Cruise Master, fifth at Luhm?hlen last year, while Todd has Major Milestone, 11th at Burghley last time, and is last to go on the former Townend ride NZB Land Vision, guaranteeing a gripping end to Cross-Country day on Sunday.
Last year?s winner, Paul Tapner (AUS), does not have his 2010 winner Inonothing in action, but he still has plenty of ammunition in Kilfinnie, a horse with good CCI4* form. His compatriot Lucinda Fredericks, who triumphed in 2007, has come off the waitlist with the good mare Prada. Much anticipation surrounds the return to Badminton of Pippa Funnell (GBR), a former three-time winner, after three years. She brings the exciting 10-year-old chestnut Redesigned, a winner of Bramham CCI3* (GBR) and fifth individually at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? in Kentucky (USA) last year, plus Mirage d?Elle, 15th at Burghley in 2010.
Mary King (GBR), 49, has been competing at Badminton since 1985. The winner in 1992 and 2000, she has two good rides in the CCI4* veteran Apache Sauce and the handsome Imperial Cavalier, fourth last year and on whom she won a world team gold medal.
But the man they may all have to beat is William Fox-Pitt (GBR), who last tasted victory here seven years ago. He has won more CCIs - 40 - than anyone else, and is the only rider to have captured four different CCI4*s. He also won the HSBC FEI Classics? last year, for the second time. He rides Navigator, second at Pau, and Cool Mountain, winner of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (USA) 2010 and team gold and individual silver at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games?.
Many people feel, however, that Badminton is due a new name on the magnificent Mitsubishi Trophy, and Andrew Nicholson (NZL) could be the one. He has a record number of Badminton completions - 29 - under his belt and has two good rides, Avebury and the Spanish-bred Nereo, on whom he took world team and individual bronze medals last year.
To riders such as these, and O?Connor (USA), who has the longest Badminton record of all having started competing here in 1979, much will be familiar about Director Hugh Thomas? Cross-Country course. But all the riders know they can never underestimate the enormity of the occasion on Cross-Country day at the world?s oldest CCI, when vast cheering crowds line the tracks, especially around the iconic Lake fences.
The track runs clockwise - it is reversed every year - and the 2006 winner Andrew Hoy (AUS), who has had a preview walk around, has given one combination, the sharply angled Carisma Pond, 10 out of 10 for difficulty. This is followed by a set of open corners, which were highly influential last year, and there's a tricky new angled bounce combination in the wood at Huntsman?s Close.
?The course follows the pattern of high-action clusters of obstacles interspersed with imposing but less technical questions and, as ever, the Mitsubishi Motors Trophy will take a lot of winning,? comments Hugh Thomas.
The top 10 riders will carry forward points in the HSBC FEI Classics? and, with the season?s best three results counting towards a final score, tactics will come into play - the likes of Todd, King, Townend and Fox-Pitt all have horses en route for the second leg, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, which takes place Thursday 28 April - Sunday 1 May.
Follow the action with daily news reports from the FEI, live FEI TV coverage and results and updates on www.badminton-horse.co.uk.
HSBC FEI Classics? prize money
Over the next three years, HSBC will be contributing US$1 million in prize money, which represents the biggest prize fund on offer in Eventing on an annual basis.
At the end of the season, the five riders with the highest number of points collected among the five HSBC FEI Classics? 2011 events are awarded their share of a total prize pot of US$333,000, split as follows:
1st US$150,000 (Series Champion)
HSBC FEI Classics? 2011 Calendar
1. Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR) - 22-25 April
2. Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (USA) - 28 April-1 May
3. Luhm?hlen CCI 4* presented by E.ON (GER) - 16-19 June
4. The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR) - 1-4 September
5. Les Etoiles de Pau CCI 4* (FRA) - 12-16 October