Saturday, 23 April 2011

Sam Watson: It's Getting Quiet & Serious Down At The Lorry Park

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It’s Friday morning, we’re basked in sunshine yet again and things don’t look like changing. Some of the riders, and I would have included myself in this bracket, would have been praying for a last minute deluge of rain before tomorrow’s cross country. But it will take divine intervention to soften the hallowed turf of Badminton at this late stage. Different event horses, just like racehorses, can be better suited to different ground conditions. Generally speaking, this dry quick ground will suit those at the top end of the dressage leaderboard, but every rider will be concerned about their horse’s legs when running over ‘good’ ground conditions. The Badminton team have hardly drawn breath where watering the course is concerned, so the best ground is definitely out on that course. Despite that, there will be riders who haven’t performed a great test who will now change their tactics on Sunday. Experience may be the order of the day, rather than going for an all out win from low down in the field. These horses aren’t machines, and while Badminton is an occasion which we generally save our horses for, there’ll be riders looking to next year and beyond for their ‘big win’.

However that isn’t the case for those with the dressage still ahead of them. I mentioned yesterday that many of the anti-post favourites are scheduled to perform their test this afternoon, but already there are two unusual casualties in the shape of Tina Cook and Pippa Funnell. Neither ‘set back’ appears serious, but enough to sideline them for this year’s main event – both horses are a huge loss to the competition. Down at the stables commiserations will be offered by fellow riders, and those feelings are genuine. Yes, two of the favourites are out and that means a better shot at the title and possibly more prizemoney for those still in the event. But everyone in this sport has experienced downfalls firsthand and empathy is heartfelt by all behind the scenes.

While the public settle down to lunch and a glass of pimms, eagerly anticipating the final session of dressage, well over half of the competitors have their thoughts firmly set on tomorrows’ cross country. The enormity of the jumping obstacles is mainly for the benefit of the spectators. A first timer might sit up a bit when they see those extra few inches on each dimension of the legendary Badminton fences, but that’s not the main concern for most riders. The cost of a mistake has just inflated – significantly. A late flying change costs you 3 marks off a movement, which translates to 1% or 1.5 penalties. A run out or a stop tomorrow will cost you a cool 20 penalties plus about 15 seconds which is another 6 penalties just for luck. That’s lights out when it comes to any meaningful result at Badminton. As far as the bigger picture is concerned, one of those errors can end any hopes of representing you country at Championship level later in the year. So for that reason, the tension is building and the lorry park is rapidly becoming a very quiet place to be….

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