Jonty Evans hailed his “horse of a lifetime” after an outstanding dressage display shortened odds on a first Irish winner at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials for 52 years.
Evans, who finished ninth at the Rio Olympics last summer, cajoled another superb performance from 11-year-old gelding Cooley Rorkes Drift to lie third overnight behind Australian Christopher Burton and Germany’s multiple major championship gold medallist Ingrid Klimke.
But it was another disappointing day for the sizeable British challenge, with no-one threatening the top 10 ahead of today’s pivotal cross-country test. Alexander Bragg and Tom McEwen are currently the leading hopes in equal-18th place.
Irishman Evans, who shed tears of joy after his dressage test, posted 37.2 penalties, leaving him 0.8 behind Klimke and Horseware Hale Bob, with Surrey-based Burton moving well clear aboard Graf Liberty on 32.9, the third-best dressage score in Badminton’s 68-year history.
Reigning Olympic champion, world No 1 and Badminton title holder Michael Jung, meanwhile, lies ninth on La Bioesthetique Sam, seven penalties adrift of Burton.
But the day belonged largely to 45-year-old Evans as Irish hopes were raised of Badminton glory for a first time since Major Eddie Boylan and Durlas Eile triumphed in 1965.
The last Irish podium finisher was Jessica Harrington, who finished third in 1983 and is now a successful racehorse trainer, highlighted by Sizing John winning this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“He is definitely my horse of a lifetime,” said Evans, who is based near Cheltenham and last competed at Badminton 10 years ago. “This is very special, and I can’t believe it.
“You try not to look at the scoreboard, but when I halted at the end of the test and got some nines among the marks, I thought, ‘oh, my God’. It hasn’t sunk in, and it won’t sink in. If I am still in this position on Sunday night, it will mean a huge amount.
“It means a lot now, and I am over the moon with him. He tried so hard, and was totally and utterly with me all the way through the test.
“He is a very special horse. What’s so amazing is you know that if you turn up, he will always turn up.”