Olympic gold medallists Laura Collett, Oliver Townend and Tom McEwen will spearhead a strong British challenge when the Badminton Horse Trials return after a three-year absence.
Eventing’s flagship five-star competition carries a £100,000 top prize, with the starting line-up featuring five past Badminton winners.
Shropshire-based world number one Townend, champion 13 years ago and three times a Badminton runner-up, will be aboard his Tokyo Games ride Ballaghmor Class and a second entry in Swallow Springs.
Collett and McEwen, meanwhile, also parade their respective Olympic horses London 52 and Toledo De Kerser across four days of dressage, cross-country and showjumping in South Gloucestershire that begin on Thursday.
The trio won a first eventing team gold for Britain since 1972 by producing a dominant display nine months ago.
And they will again be centre of attention at an event that last ran in 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic and is expected to attract an overall attendance of 150,000-plus.
“It was a bit crazy after Tokyo, and we got to attend some really nice parties in the winter, but we are back to reality, really,” Collett told the PA news agency.
“For me, the Olympics showed that things can go right, and when they do, it is special. I have always believed in the horse, and it was great that he got the chance to prove that he is as good as I always thought he was.
“He has come out really well this season and feels like he has started from where he left off.
“It’s his first Badminton. It is so different to any other event – the crowds on cross-country day are like nowhere else, really – so you don’t really know until you do it.
“Coming off the back of two years of lockdowns, it is going to be a big surprise for horses and riders. We are not used to it.
“If you ask any rider, however many times they go to Badminton, it never loses its special feeling.
“There are so many brilliant British combinations – we could have sent three teams to the Olympics, and any one of them could have come back with a gold medal – and that strength in depth is incredible at the moment. It is very exciting times.”
All four members of Britain’s 2021 European title-winning team – Nicola Wilson, Piggy March, Ros Canter and Kitty King – will be in action at Badminton.
Wilson and Canter are the reigning European and world individual champions, respectively, while March returns with Vanir Kamira to defend the Badminton title they won in 2019.
New Zealander Jonelle Price, Badminton champion four years ago, leads a traditionally powerful overseas entry that also features Rio Olympics individual bronze medallist Phillip Dutton and his fellow American Tamra Smith.
On Badminton’s return, event director Jane Tuckwell said: “I am just so relieved for everyone. It feels like the event has had a very long pause button on it, but we have kept working all the way through.
“Everyone’s backing and support drives you. We have the most amazing team. Every person, every cog, is as important as the next person.”
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