BADMINTON HORSE TRIALS: Griffiths triumphs as Tapner loses lead
Australia's Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh celebrate winning the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials
AUSTRALIAN Sam Griffiths continued recent overseas domination of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials by winning his first four-star title - but past champion Oliver Townend and comeback king Harry Meade pushed him close in a thrilling finale.
While Dorset-based Griffiths celebrated landing an £80,000 jackpot aboard the 11-year-old mare Paulank Brockagh, though, his fellow Australian Paul Tapner suffered a showjumping implosion.
Highworth-based Tapner, Badminton winner four years ago and the overnight leader after cross-country, could afford to have two fences down aboard Kilronan and still take the title, but four rails hit the deck and he finished fourth.
For Yorkshireman Townend, riding Armada, second spot proved a best four-star result since he triumphed at Badminton and Burghley in 2009, while third-placed Meade and Wild Lone completed one of eventing's most remarkable recoveries.
Meade, the son of three-time Olympic gold medallist eventer Richard Meade, suffered career-threatening elbow injuries following a horror rotational fall during a competition last August, and he defied medical logic to take his place in the Badminton field.
"It is way beyond expectations - everything just added up in the right place," said Meade, who lives in Luckington, a neighbouring village of Badminton.
"I have coped really well. I feel great, to be honest. My arms were great on Saturday on the cross-country, and I was so relaxed going in there again.
"He (Wild Lone) did everything I expected him to do, but in eventing it can leave you 20th or it can leave you in the top three.
"On Saturday, I loved the fact it was raining, it was windy and they were hostile conditions. You could get your teeth stuck into it. This is just brilliant."
Townend finished less than three penalties behind 41-year-old Griffiths' final score of 67.9, and he added: "I am thrilled with the result. He came here as good as I could have had him.
"The reason he is so good at cross-country is because he is tricky in the other two phases. It was certainly a good cross-country competition, so it has worked out in our favour in the end.
"At certain points riding the cross-country course I just thought this was what the sport was meant to be. It is a fantastic feeling when you are on a Ferrari to be able to sit there and get those distances you need on big courses like this one.
"I am fairly speechless, if I am honest."
The glory belonged to Griffiths, though, who jumped from fifth to first after having just one fence down on a day when only one of the 32 final phase survivors - his fellow Australian Wendy Schaeffer - collected no jumping penalties.
Griffiths becomes the sixth Australian winner in Badminton's 65-year history, while Townend remains the only British champion since 2005.
"I was fifth going into the showjumping, and I had no expectation of being on the podium, but I just concentrated on what my horse does well," Griffiths said.
"She is one tough nut with a massive heart. She tries and tries and tries. I cannot speak highly enough of her.
"This is the ultimate dream. When I was a little boy we used to wait for the video to come out to watch the highlights of Badminton. To win it is the completion of that dream."
Record six-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green, meanwhile, believes that Saturday's thrilling and challenging cross-country spectacle has reinvigorated an event that was first staged in 1949.
"In the old days it used to be a ratio of importance of two for dressage, 12 for cross-country and one for showjumping. In the mid-1990s that was taken out of the rule book," Green told Press Association Sport.
"On a good day, it has become a ratio of six, six, six, which is acceptable, but so often we have had a ratio of eight, three, nine."
Green, who won 13 Olympic, world and European medals during a glittering career, added: "What we had on Saturday was a seriously difficult course, not made any easier by the conditions.
"If Badminton holds its nerve and can have this level maintained, the rest of the sport will aspire to it and the whole sport will start to put cross-country back to where it should be.
"I am so happy the course posed the problems that it did. It was fantastically courageous of Giuseppe (course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa).
"It was an old-fashioned Badminton with new modern jeans on."
BADMINTON HORSE TRIALS PICTURES AND REACTION IN THURSDAY'S GAZETTE & HERALD AND FRIDAY'S WILTSHIRE TIMES