8 May 2023
By Elaine Murphy
Mallow man Austin O’Connor became the first Irish rider in 40 years reach the podium at the prestigious five-star Badminton Horse Trials, finishing in third place on board Colorado Blue.
Riding his 2021 Tokyo Olympic mount, O’Connor completed what has been an excellent couple of days to consolidate his place in the top three of the five-star competition following the final show jumping phase.
Former World Champion Rosalind Canter and Lordships Graffalo had led overnight and the pair were foot perfect in the show jumping arena to take top spot, accruing just 1.6 time penalties to win on a score of 35.3.
Britain’s Oliver Townend and Irish Sport Horse Ballaghmor Class finished second on 50.3, having one fence down and adding 0.4 time penalties. O’Connor was a further 1.6 penalties back on a final score of 51.9, with an unfortunate two fences down and 1.2 time penalties in the show jumping.
Speaking after the fantastic result, the elated Irishman said: “We’re third at Badminton, I’m stood on the podium with two of the best riders in the world here beside me so I couldn’t be happier.”
When asked about what it means to be the first Irish rider since Jessica Harrington in 1983 to have a podium finish, O’Connor added: “Personally, it’s great, hopefully it’s a bit of a lift for eventing at home. Following somebody like Jessica Harrington into that position is pretty amazing.”
Acting Ireland Eventing Team Manager Dag Albert was full of praise for O’Connor after the podium finish, saying: “I’m delighted for him, it’s a very, very good result – it’s fantastic with how it finished up.
“It’s a very big achievement. Given the nature of the testing conditions, with the soft ground, it makes it that much better and hopefully it bodes well for us as we continue to prepare for the Olympics in Paris next year.”
Competition began on Thursday with the first horse inspection and the Corkman completed his dressage test on Friday afternoon scoring a personal best with the Salty Syndicate-owned Colorado Blue at five-star level of 31.9, leaving them in equal 34th place with fellow Irish rider Susie Berry and Ringwood LB (ISH).
Sunday’s cross country test saw O’Connor move through the field following a tough day of competition, with ground conditions alongside the traditionally challenging cross country course designed by Eric Winter seeing 11 combinations retire on course and a further 17 eliminated.
O’Connor not only posted the fastest clear round of the day, adding just 10.8 time penalties to his dressage score, but gave a masterful demonstration of cross country riding.
Canter and Lordships Graffalo added 11.6 time penalties to her dressage score of 22.1 to maintain their lead going into the final phase. O’Connor held second place after cross country, 9 penalties behind. Townend and Ballaghmor Class were in third position as of Sunday evening.
The leader board changed again following the final phase of competition, with only two combinations successfully jumping clear inside the time. British rider Tom Jackson and the Irish Sport Horse Capels Hallow Drift posted the first clear show jumping round inside the optimum time, to finish in fifth. Olympic individual silver medallist Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser jumped the second clear round inside the time of the day to finish fourth.
This is the second Badminton completion for O’Connor and Colorado Blue, having finished in eighth place last year. The Corkman has been a key member of the Irish eventing team for many years, representing Ireland at the 2021, 2008 and 2000 Olympic Games as well as at five European Championships.