Mary King is back on course for a place in her third Olympics. Having come here with the principal aim of impressing the selectors, the 38-year-old rider from Devon did that and more yesterday when she collected £30,000 for winning the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials on Star Appeal.
For a change, British riders filled the top three places, with Leslie Law second on Shear H20 and Rodney Powell third on Flintstone after the fraught show jumping phase of this annual classic. Fourth place went to the New Zealander Brook Staples, a Badminton newcomer, who moved up from ninth after one of the rare clear show jumping rounds, on Master Monarch.
Among those overtaken by Staples was the double Olympic champion Mark Todd, who had the first two parts of the treble down with the inexperienced Eyespy II to finish fifth in his last Badminton before he retires at the end of the year.
King, who won Badminton in 1992 on King William, had not competed here since 1997. A year ago she broke an arm and leg in a fall at Saumur in France. She has two small children and had been told that motherhood would put an end to her competitive edge. Yet on Saturday she jumped a wonderful clear round on the cross-country and yesterday, while everybody in the stands found their heartbeats racing, she produced a relaxed and faultless performance.
This weekend has been a wonderful fillip for a sport that was still reeling from the six rider fatalities at British events in the space of a year.
There were spills on Saturday. Kristina Gifford, who was unconscious for a short time after her fall with General Jock, was taken to hospital but has since been discharged. There were also some great performances from British horses, notably from the top three in the final placings, who all finished clear within the optimum time.
Law, who was first to tackle the cross-country with Shear H20 came back full of praise for the 10-year-old grey. "He did well to jump those brushes after the lake, because I was all over the shop," Law said.
Despite one fence down in the show jumping, Law moved up a place to finish runner-up after the luckless Andrew Nicholson from New Zealand saw the fruits of his cross-country efforts perish with five lowered rails yesterday.
Australia's Andrew Hoy and Darien Powers, so impressive when achieving the best dressage score, lost their advantage with one lapse of concentration when stopping at the bullfinch, the second part of the 18th cross-country fence. The grey gelding dislodged three show jumps yesterday to finish in ninth place.