British star William Fox-Pitt shed tears of joy after landing eventing’s most prestigious prize with a dramatic history-making victory at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
Not only did Fox-Pitt end a six-year wait for British success, his ride Chilli Morning became the first stallion to win an elite four-star event anywhere in the world.
It was 46-year-old Fox-Pitt’s 14th four-star crown of his stellar career, but a first Badminton triumph since 2004, while Huddersfield’s Oliver Townend and Flint Curtis were the last British combination to prevail in 2009.
After near-misses at the 2013 European Championships and last year’s World Equestrian Games, when Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning took individual bronze on both occasions, they finally cracked the code in front of a packed Badminton arena.
But while Fox-Pitt celebrated an £80.000 jackpot, there was heartbreak for New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, who followed his rival’s showjumping clear round by having three fences down that dropped him from first to sixth. Nicholson had led the event since Thursday morning.
Nicholson has a record 35 Badminton completions to his name, but still no title, and there was also misery for Townend and Armada as they plummeted eight places to 11th after collecting 16 faults.
Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob finished second, 1.2 penalties behind Fox-Pitt’s final score of 39.0, with 2013 Badminton winner Jonathan Paget third on Clifton Lush, Mark Todd (Leonidas II) fourth and Bettina Hoy (Designer 10) fifth.
“It is a massive relief,” said Dorset-based Fox-Pitt. “I can’t believe it.
“You are so in the lap of the gods when you are lying second going into showjumping. I knew I had to jump a clear round, and I thought I just can’t have another one pole off.
“I was a little lucky, so I am sorry I made everyone very, very tense watching that!
“It’s so exciting. I won here in 2004, and it has been a long wait, but what a horse.
“I am so proud of him. I felt I let him down a little bit in the dressage on Friday, and today I think we made it up.
“I have got an amazing horse, and you feel you just don’t want to waste it. It’s such a relief for the team. Hearts were broken at the World Equestrian Games, and this feels great today.”
Chilli Morning’s owner Christopher Stone could not attend the gripping Badminton finale due to business commitments, but Fox-Pitt revealed some words of wisdom had been imparted to him.
“Chris couldn’t be here today, but he sent me a message this morning that said just to ride Chilli like we were in the field at home, so I had those words in my ears, and it worked,” Fox-Pitt added.
“The fact he is the first stallion to win a four-star makes me feel quite emotional.
“He had that victory coming, he has been knocking on the door.
“Nick Gauntlett produced him so beautifully, and I was very lucky to pick up the reins in 2012 when he was well and truly produced.
“I did come here feeling he had a good chance, although I felt very angry with myself after dressage.
“I felt he should have been streets ahead of the field, and he wasn’t, and I thought I had made his life really difficult after dressage with no room for anything, and thank goodness it worked out.”
The 15-year-old Chilli Morning will now take a rest, and if current form is maintained it would be a major surprise if he does not spearhead the Great Britain eventing team’s Rio Olympics challenge next year.