Bowen, a last-minute substitute for Kelly Brown, whose Alfredo was injured in his box overnight, had started his second round on Ben Hur, when he heard Pallas Grean, the mount of the previous competitor, Gerry Mullins, cantering towards him. Fearing that he had started before the signal was given, Bowen pulled up before the first fence. That misunderstanding cost three faults for what was deemed a refusal at the first fence and 1.25 for exceeding the time, giving him a second-round score of 11.25 faults.
Ronnie Massarella, the British team manager, asked why the starting signal had been given while the last horse was still in the ring and was told that, in the judges' opinion, the course was free for Bowen to start.
'David must take part of the blame, once he'd gone through the start he should have been committed to carrying on,' Massarella said. He was, nevertheless, unhappy with the debacle. 'This is one of those days when a lot of people have a lot to answer for.'
The competition had started with controversy, when riders deemed that the course was too big for the deep, slushy mud underfoot. That view seemed to be confirmed when Nick Skelton, first to go on Everest Limited Edition, had a fall at the 11th fence. The horse sustained a minor injury and did not jump in the second round.
After the first horse in each of the five teams had jumped, Massarella asked for the double, the seventh of 12 fences, to be altered. 'They refused to do that,' the team manager said.
Mullins, a member of the gallant Irish team who finished third, was equally irate. 'My mare tried her heart out and she was very tired at the end,' he said of Pallas Grean. 'The course shouldn't have asked horses to make such an effort.'
For a while it looked as though there might not be a second round. Henk Nooren, the Dutchman who trains the stylish Italians, had not wanted his team to take any further part. But, in the end, the course was modified to an extent that everyone agreed to carry on.
Having lost Skelton from the team, every British score had to count. John Whitaker had the best score of any competitor, with four faults and a clear round on Everest Gammon. Michael Whitaker had 12 faults and a clear on Midnight Madness; Bowen had eight faults and his controversial 11.25 on Ben Hur.
The Italians were worthy winners. Nooren has been building them into a strong team, which may yet regain the glory days when the great d'Inzeo brothers were in their prime. That hope had already been fired in Rome at the end of April, when Arnaldo Bologni and the New Zealand-bred May Day, who both contributed to the Hickstead victory, won the Grand Prix.
BRITISH NATIONS CUP (Hickstead): 1 Italy 36 faults; 2 Great Britain 36.25; 3 Ireland 40; 4 Australia 44; 5 Germany 59.