In his second year as course designer Eric Winter has taken the traditional line and reversed the direction of the Badminton Course. The general feeling of the course is that it is rustically impressive. Whilst it may look like a big, bold course which harkens back to yesteryear, it still has the technicality of the modern era and will need horse and rider to have a solid partnership in order for them to come home penalty free.
Starting as ever in the main arena over the familiar flower bed, the ASX Starter (1) riders head left to a choice of inviting Rolex Feeder roll top spreads (2), one of very few portable fences on this track.
Earthworks have created a mound on the way through the car park where there is an impressive fallen tree on the top, the HorseQuest Hump (3). This is designed to break up the natural flatness of the park on the way to the HorseQuest Quarry (4 AB), which Eric describes as back to being how God intended it, with a dry stone wall drop in and its counterpart coming left on the top of the incline. Control will be of the essence at this fence, particularly over the first element.
To avoid a flat-out gallop there is a deviation through the trees to a very skinny brush with ditch to the fore on quite a sharp angle, the Rolex Grand Slam Skinny (5). This is a very narrow fence and riders can approach it two ways; the first saving the most time by jumping it on the angle – which will be favoured by those looking to win, or a wider, straighter approach which makes it a very simple fence.
It is then a right turn heading to Huntsman’s Close which this time consists of three very chunky logs on a tight turn (6 ABC). Riders will already have decided which route they are taking through this combination. The direct route is a test of accuracy. Whilst the first element is relatively easy, the line between the second and third elements I extremely acute, with the added issue of the roots of the three at the second element pushing riders to the rights, and off their line. Concentration then focuses on not letting the horse slip out to the left of the third element as again the roots of the tree push riders out from the fence. There is a slower route through this combination but riders choosing to play it safe will lose time.
The new Traders Table (7) keeps the rhythm going before last year’s log into the Lake (8), the Wadworths Water, this time transported to the House end of the water hazard. The horses won’t see the water until the last minute so riders will need to have them gathered together, but once there it is a nice introduction to what is to come.
The entry to The Lake proper (9 ABC). is the same route as last year over another massive log, with a huge drop into water and very little time for riders to gather their reins and regain balance before an angled brush in the water – which could be easy to miss, with a sharp right turn to a narrow brush up the slope. The third element is again on an angle and it would be all too easy for horses to duck out to the left. The much slower, alternative route would see riders enter the lake from the other side popping over a smaller palisade in the water, jumping up a step and finishing over another narrow palisade before turning back on themselves get back on course.
For the first time in many years the Mitsubishi L200s pickups (10) come after the Lake as the riders pass in front of the lakeside pavilions and jump left over the imposing World Horse Welfare Gates (11). Riders can jump either of the two gates but they will demand respect and balance.
The Lake will be this year’s spectator hotspot with six fences viewable from this spot. If this is where you want to see the action you’ll need to be there early.
Next comes a choice of maximum size parallels, the Formulate! White Oxers (12) and onto a natural Stick Pile (13) – two let-up fences after The Lake.
Fences 14, 15 and 16 (The Outlander PHEV Mound) come close together as riders reach the far end of the course. Turning right out of the Deer Park are a choice of corners either side of the tree (14), before going down into the hollow and up a steep slope with a post and rails on the top (15) then down to another choice of corners away (16). Getting the line right to the final element will be key.
Heading towards the Luckington Lane is a massive triple bar with a drop, the Devoucoux Quad Bar (17) – a real old-fashioned Badminton fence.
The test at the Eclipse Cross Pond (18ABC) is perhaps simpler this time with a rail in and a parallel out. But horses will still need to be cat-like after a big jump at the fence before. All elements are very ‘airy’ and whilst the parallel on the direct routes acts as the B and C element of the combination, those taking the longer route have three separate elements to navigate.
The slope up the hill towards the Luckington Lane car park brings riders to the Vicarage Rolltop (19) – a maximum height brush fence which acts as a nice let up on route to the Hildon Water Pond (20ABC). This combination, at the furthest point of the course, consists of a log, slope into the pond, a running water trough and a hedge up the incline. This interesting fence offers two definitive alternatives. Control is of the essence over the imposing first element to give time for horses to see the water and the trough, complete with running water at the second element. Once in the water riders will need to gather themselves back together to make the turn left up the slope to make the brush at the final element. It has been designed to jump well but will need to be jumped on quite an angle – a real run out possibility
The yawning National Star Trakehner (21) – impressive to look at for spectators and photographers alike – is next before the classic KBIS Vicarage Vee (22, 23). The straight route is numbered as a single fence and one of the great fences of Badminton. This year it looks to be a much more inviting fence, with a much clearer view of what is being asked. The longer route takes up precious time but will see riders pop over the ditch before making a full circle and back over a solid rail over the ditch to get them back on track.
The Shogun Hollow (24ABCD) is approached through the trees, which centre the riders onto the fence. On the direct route, the first element is an upright set of rails, followed by a narrow, angled ditch which takes riders back up the slope to a narrow, angled house. With the fences all on an angle it will be easy for riders to be pushed off their line. The slow will really take riders off the track, with four elements, losing a fair amount of time.
The Countryside Haywain (25) comes in front of the House, then down to the Joules Corners (26 ABC). By this point, horses will be beginning to tire and riders will need to maintain their accuracy and collect the horse for the direct route.
The very square BHS Table (27) is an imposing fence on an angle. Although riders can take a wider turn to take the fence straight losing minimal time. Coming towards the end of the course, riders come past the steps to the Crooked S Bullfinch (28). This shouldn’t cause any problems provided horses still have petrol left in the tank.
Coming down the hill is a box brush followed by two skinny moustache jumps at an angle (29 ABC), Savills Escalator. It is the last big question before heading for home. It requires accuracy and energy – it will be down to riders how they navigate the fences which are situated amongst the trees. It is a last check of balance and organisation.
Three from home is the old standard Fischer Brush (30) – one of the oldest fences on the course, a beautifully carved single log (31), the Rolex Treetrunk, which is on a slight incline, and into the arena to the roar of the crowd to the Shogun Sport Saddles (32).