Kiwi Jock Paget claims Badminton glory
New Zealand's Jock Paget has become just the second rider to win the illustrious Badminton Horse Trials on debut, joining compatriot Sir Mark Todd after claiming a dramatic breakthrough four-star victory today.
Paget, the 29-year-old former bricklayer from Northland, turned on the performance of his short but impressive three-day eventing career at Badminton Park in Gloucestershire to finish on 39.7 points on his horse Clifton Promise, 0.3 clear of Germany's world, Olympic and European champion Michael Jung and 0.5 ahead of one of his idols, fellow Kiwi Andrew Nicholson, whose grand slam hopes were dashed despite a spirited effort.
Paget, second heading into the showjumping phase, heaped the pressure on Jung with a clear round inside the allotted time, meaning the German could not afford to drop a rail.
Few would have wagered against Jung and his champion horse Sam, the first combination to hold the world, Olympic and European titles at the same time.
And it looked as if the 30-year-old German would be the one to become just the second debut winner at Badminton - Todd was the first in 1980 - but there was high drama as Sam clipped a rail at the last fence and Jung could only look back in agony to see it drop to the ground.
The four-point penalty was all Paget needed to claim his first four-star victory after several near misses in 2012, and it just happened to be the big one.
"It didn't matter which one it was, I just wanted to win," Paget said, admitting that the victory hadn't really sunk in.
"I was just thinking one fence at a time.
"I came here knowing I had two great horses and that I could win. Both horses did everything I asked of them and that was enough."
Paget, Clifton Promise's owner Frances Stead, the New Zealand riders and supporters did not watch Jung's showjumping round and when the cheer went up they thought the German had won. But it was quickly followed by a groan, and then the celebrations began.
It wasn't the only drama for Paget - at the final horse inspection before the showjumping, Clifton Promise was held by the ground jury and had to be re-presented.
Paget, the world No 4 has been knocking on the door at four-star level, with top-10s at Burghley (twice), Kentucky and the Olympics, and a runner-up finish to Nicholson at Pau last year, after he had been leading going into the showjumping.
This time he was the man to come from behind, and claim the $117,000 winner's cheque.
In an ironic twist, Jung lost the title in the same manner in which he won the Olympic crown last year, when Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt agonisingly dropped the last rail to hand Jung the gold.
Jung also hosted Paget late last year in Germany, the pair training together for several weeks.
He took today's loss well. "[Sam] jumped very [well] today with a lot of power. Perhaps I came into the final fence a little fast and flat, but I have been very happy with him all week. (Badminton) has been a great experience - the weather and the conditions have been fantastic."
As for Nicholson, he did everything he could have with the grand slam on the line, completing a good dressage and clear cross-country and showjumping rounds on Nereo. But that elusive Badminton title remains out of reach, for now.
Paget is now the only man with a shot at the US$350,000 (NZ$410,000)slam, for winning Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton in succession.
"I knew I had to jump a clear round and I was focused on what I had to do," Nicholson said.
"Nereo is a very good jumper and he jumped very well. It's been an exciting week with the Rolex Grand Slam and I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of it."
It is the second time in succession a New Zealander has won Badminton - Todd won the event for the fourth time in 2011 and it was washed out last year - while New Zealand's run of four-star victories since the London Olympics stretches to four, with Nicholson having won the other three.
Jock Paget and Clifton Promise NZL (39.7 points) 1
Michael Jung and La Biosthetique-Sam GER (40) 2
Andrew Nicholson and Nereo NZL (40.2) 3
Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo GER (42.5) 4
William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk GBR (44) 5
Of these accolades, which would you like to win most?