Mark Todd finally exorcised the gremlins that have meddled in his partnership with Bertie Blunt by winning the Mitsubishi Badminton Horse Trials, after a clear round in yesterday's final show jumping.
The New Zealander (who had previously won here in 1980 and 1994) defeated another Kiwi, the reigning world champion Vaughn Jefferis on Bounce, with David O'Connor third for the United States on Custom Made and Leslie Law, who was the best of the British, in fourth on New Flavour.
As usual they jumped in the reverse order of merit and Todd, lying third after the cross- country, had a fraught wait after his clear round. "I couldn't bring myself to go out and watch," he said, after his victory. But he must have heard the groans that accompanied a single mistake from O'Connor and two errors from Ian Stark and Stanwick Ghost, who had been the overnight leaders.
"If ever a horse deserved to win, this is the one," Todd said, once the record first prize of pounds 24,000 was in safe keeping. Bertie Blunt would have been in with a winning chance but for Todd missing a loop on the roads and tracks at Burghley in 1994; he was lying third after the cross- country here last year when failing the final horse inspection.
Bertie Blunt jumped a bold and apparently carefree round over Saturday's cross-country - as did Stark's grey partner, Stanwick Ghost. Stark was, however, well aware that his mount is not the most careful of show jumpers.
Yesterday the grey, who has had a couple of training sessions with Lars Sederholm, looked as though he had overcome his Achilles heel. Stanwick Ghost was clear until the gate, the second last fence, and he may have been distracted by the shushing of the tense crowd when he clobbered the obstacle. Almost inevitably, he hit the last as well to finish sixth.
"I was thrilled with him, he was getting up so much better until he hit the gate," Stark said of the horse, who must now be a strong candidate for Britain's Olympic team, which is due to be announced next Monday.
New Flavour, who gave Law a wonderful 31st birthday present when finishing fourth yesterday after clear cross-country and show jumping rounds, must also come into the reckoning.
Mary King went to hospital for an X-ray yesterday morning, after her first fence fall on the cross-country with Star Appeal. Although no serious damage was revealed, she had severe bruising around her neck and shoulders and withdrew King William, who had been lying eleventh, before the show jumping.