German master Michael Jung’s bid for total domination of world eventing ended in final fence agony yesterday as the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials delivered a dramatic finish.
Jung, the reigning Olympic, world and European champion, rolled a pole aboard La Biosthetique-Sam, which meant his fellow Badminton debutant – New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget – triumphed after jumping clear on Clifton Promise.
It also ensured that eventing’s richest prize, the £230,000 Rolex Grand Slam, went unclaimed.
British Olympian William Fox-Pitt and New Zealander Andrew Nicholson both entered the final showjumping phase with a chance of completing a clean sweep – which had been achieved only once before, by Pippa Funnell ten years ago.
The Grand Slam is awarded to any rider who wins consecutive Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton titles. Because Badminton was rained off last season, Fox-Pitt’s chance of glory was delayed by 12 months.
In the meantime, world No 1 Nicholson captured Burghley 2012 silverware, then triumphed in Kentucky nine days ago, creating an unprecedented situation of two riders contesting the Grand Slam at one event.
But Fox-Pitt had a fence down aboard Parklane Hawk, finishing fifth, while Nicholson was third on Nereo. The top three were separated by just 0.5 penalties.
Surrey-based Paget is the first Badminton debut winner since his countryman, double Olympic champion Mark Todd, prevailed in 1980, three years before Paget was born. In an ironic twist, he also did some showjumping training with Jung last winter.
And for Jung it was a painful change of fortune, after he won Olympic gold at Greenwich Park last summer when Sweden’s Sara Algotsson ended four days of competition by having the last showjumping fence down to gift him top spot.
“Maybe I was a little too fast and we jumped a little too flat,” Jung said. “I had a good line and a good rhythm, but the pole went down. “Maybe this winter, I will go to Jonathan for training.”
Paget mirrored the German’s renowned ice-cool temperament in front of a capacity 13,000 crowd to collect £65,000 and the prestigious silver trophy.
It is now four years, though, since a British rider has taken the Badminton spoils, and the next highest home finisher to Fox-Pitt was Mary King and Imperial Cavalier in 13th place.
Olympic team champions Germany, meanwhile, had three top-16 finishers as they put down an early marker ahead of this summer’s European Championships in Malmo.