Paget joins New Zealand equestrian elite
The heir apparent in New Zealand equestrian has been confirmed.
World No 1 Andrew Nicholson may be at the top of his game and Sir Mark Todd is still going strong, but Jock Paget is the shining light that will lead New Zealand three-day eventing when the 50-something-year-olds hang up their saddles.
That has been suspected for the past 12 months but was emphatically confirmed when the 29-year-old former bricklayer from Northland won the four-star Badminton Horse Trials, the biggest three-day event in the world.
What's more, it was his debut at Badminton Park in Gloucestershire, becoming just the second rider - four-time champion Todd was the first, in 1980 - to win at first attempt in the 65-year history of the event.
''I used to watch videos of Badminton, thinking it would be cool to be there one day - and now I am,'' Paget declared moments after posing for photos with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, having been presented with the trophy and the $117,000 winner's cheque.
''[Clifton Promise] is quite tricky - it's like riding two different horses. But I've asked him a lot of questions over the past week and he's answered every one."
Paget turned on the performance of his short but impressive career to finish on his dressage score of 39.7 points, 0.3 clear of Germany's Michael Jung and 0.5 ahead of one of his idols, Nicholson, whose grand slam hopes were dashed despite a spirited attempt.
Second heading into the final phase, Paget heaped the pressure on Jung with a clear showjumping round inside the allotted time, meaning he 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, but there was high drama as the German clipped a rail at the final fence and looked back in agony to see it fall.
Paget, Promise's owner Frances Stead, the New Zealand riders and supporters quickly kick-started celebrations, and Nicholson was one of the first two congratulate him.
The 51-year-old said his New Zealand teammate was a ''truly deserving winner''.
''We love having Jock as a teammate, he's a very good rider, very competitive, and he makes you raise your own game,'' Nicholson said.
''He's going to be leading New Zealand equestrian long-term and this will be a huge confidence boost for him.
''A lot more doors will open for him and more [horse] owners will be interested in him. This is the biggest event of them all to win.''
Northland-born, England-based Paget was a relatively late starter in equestrian, at 18, but his obvious talent has been apparent during the past 12 months.
He had a series of top finishes at four-star level and a great ride at the Olympics - also on Promise - to help secure New Zealand the bronze.
A mistake at the four-star in Pau, France, late last year when leading handed Nicholson victory and the world No 4 was determined to learn from that.
''The competition is so tough that one error will cost you, there's just no room for error and I'm lucky that Promise delivered the best three phases possible,'' said Paget, who paid tribute to Nicholson and Todd, New Zealand coach Eric Duvander, and all his supporters and sponsors for their help.
''This is definitely the highlight. It didn't matter which [four-star] it was, I just wanted to win one.''
As it happened, he picked the biggest stage of them all, outside the Olympics.
In a twist of fate, 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 very last rail to hand Jung the gold.
Adding to the irony, Jung hosted Paget for a training block late last year in Germany, after agreeing to the New Zealander's request.
Paget was keen to learn everything he could from the 30-year-old sensation, though one wonders whether Jung would have been so obliging had he known what would transpire a few months later.
Paget becomes the second Kiwi to win Badminton after Todd (1980, 1994, 1996 and 2011) while New Zealand's run of four-star victories since the London Olympics stretches to four, with Nicholson having won the other three.
WHO IS JONATHAN 'JOCK' PAGET?
- Born in Wellsford, Northland, in 1983
- Moved to Sydney when he was three and grew up there, played rugby league
- Started bricklaying apprenticeship when he finished school
- Got into horses at age 18 when his father bought a rural property near Sydney
- Moved to Queensland to work for Australian eventer Kevin McNab
- Under McNab, went from never having jumped a fence to competing in three-star (second-tier) international events in two years
- Moved back to Sydney and set up his own business in 2006
- In 2007, moved back to NZ to become lead rider for Clifton Eventers at Muriwai after an outbreak of equine influenza on the east coast of Australia
- Won NZ Eventer of the Year title at the Horse of the Year Show in Hastings in 2009 and 2010
- Competed in his first four-star event in 2010 and later that year finished seventh at the world championships in Kentucky, on Clifton Promise
- Team bronze medallist at London Olympics (and 10th individually), also on Clifton Promise, and rose to No 4 in the world after a series of top finishes at big four-star events
- He secures a first four-star win at Badminton, the biggest of the six four-star events