Davidson's task had been made easier when William Fox-Pitt's mount, Chaka, who had held the lead for Britain after Saturday's cross-country, failed yesterday morning's final horse inspection. That left only one rider above him - the Australian Olympic champion, Matt Ryan, on his sprightly 18- year-old, Kibah Tic Toc.
Ryan knows that Tic Toc can be fallible in the show jumping and he was glad that the horse had only the fourth fence down, which gave Davidson victory but still left the Australian as runner-up. Third place went to Biko, ridden by Karen O'Connor with Mark Todd of New Zealand fourth on Just an Ace.
Kristina Gifford's two fine performances (which left her fifth on General Jock and seventh on Midnight Blue II) dispelled a little of the gloom for home supporters. But the results were disappointing, with Ian Stark (10th on Caliber) as the only other home rider in the top 10.
Mark Todd's amazing achievement on Saturday, when he rode more than half the cross-country course on Bertie Blunt without his left stirrup iron, came to nothing. Lying third overnight, Bertie Blunt was another of those to fail the horse inspection. The chestnut has a pulled muscle in his back which, Todd believes, was caused by his own weight being out of balance after his stirrup leather had broken.
Mary Thomson was again handicapped by King William, a horse of tremendous all-round talent, getting overwrought in the dressage and show jumping. He had a marvellous round across country, pulling up from 21st to 10th, but then lowered four show jumps to finish 14th.
"At least it was one better than last year," Thomson said, remembering William's five jumping errors in 1994. She was 17th on her other mount, King Kong, who had a single cross-country refusal when he lost his momentum at the step and punt coming out of The Lake (fence 19).
Davidson was lucky to survive a moment of drama at the same fence, when Eagle Lion landed in a heap on the step. But the Irish-bred gelding somehow picked himself off the floor to clear the punt which followed, enabling Davidson to gain another great victory in his long career.
The American took the world title in 1974 and 1978. "A lot of years have gone by since then, but winning Badminton is on a par with those two," Davidson said.
BADMINTON THREE-DAY EVENT (Avon): Final results: 1 Eagle Lion (B Davidson, US) 46.6 penalties; 2 Kibah Tic Toc (M Ryan, Aus) 48.3; 3 Biko (K O'Connor, US) 51.0; 4 Just an Ace (M Todd, NZ) 53.8; 5 General Jock (K Gifford, GB) 55.2; 6 True Blur Girdwood (P Dutton, Aus) 56.45; 7 Midnight Blue II (K Gifford, GB) 58.0; 8 Summersong (M-C Duroy, Fr) 59.9; 9 Elektra Spiritus (A Hermann, Swe) 63.6; 10 Caliber (I Stark, GB) 65.2. Standings on Land Rover FEI Global Rider Rankings: 1 B Davidson (US) 162; 2 A Nicholson (NZ) 131; 3 K Gifford (GB) 120.Reuse content