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ACTION: James Robinson and Comanche at Badminton. This year’s event runs over the bank holiday weekend
THE story has been the same for the last few years and, eventually, it will come to pass. But for the moment, the equestrian world is left to wonder whether 2012 will be the last appearance at Badminton for James Robinson’s seemingly evergreen old warrior Comanche.
This will be the pair’s 10th time around the formidable crosscountry course on the Duke of Beaufort’s parkland estate off the A46 between Stroud and Bath, and obviously it can’t go on forever.
No other partnership in eventing history has tackled Badminton as often as the vet from the Herefordshire village of Kimbolton and the 16.2hh bay gelding, but Comanche is 19 this year and nothing lasts forever.
Word had it that this would be his last year, but when I spoke to James this week, I realised nothing is cut and dried.
“It could well be the last time, but until it is over no definite decisions will be made,” he said.
“He still rides like a young horse and he’s still full of enthusiasm.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes. I’ll never take a chance with him, but if he’s enjoying himself...
“Comanche is certainly not one of those horses that would like being retired in a field. He loves life too much. I’d probably find him some lower level events to just keep him ticking over.
“I don’t think he would like to go hunting, though. He would get a bit too het-up. He can go a bit wild and he’s very strong. It would be a brave man who would take him hunting.”
Bought by Joy Robinson as a four-year-old, Irish-bred Comanche has invariably come up trumps for her son across the country.
In 2004, the combination produced an amazing performance over the formidable Badminton fences to pull themselves up to fourth place, which they held during the tense final show jumping phase.
This finish remains their highest in the competition so far.
They were fifth in 2006, and in 2010, as a 17-year-old, Comanche finished sixth in a field that included some of the best horses in the eventing world.
Despite his cross-country prowess, one of James’s most magical Badminton memories was the 2006 event when the pair ended the first day of dressage in second place.
“I came out of the ring on a high,” he said. “I always knew he had a good dressage performance in him, but he was often too excited to produce it. For a horse not known for his dressage, it made me really proud.”
It was also a golden moment for his breeder Jo Cavannagh, who always comes over from Ireland to see Comanche at Badminton.
This year’s event, which runs over the bank holiday weekend from Thursday, May 3, to Monday, May 7, will be attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on its last day. William and Kate will watch the final show jumping section before presenting prizes to the successful competitors.
Despite 2012 being Olympic year, the entry list is as starstudded as ever. Twelve nations will be represented and seven previous winners are among those accepted:
Å Mary King, the 2011 HSBC FEI Classics Series Champion;
Å Pippa Funnell, the only Rolex Grand Slam winner;
Å William Fox-Pitt, six times Burghley winner;
Å Mark Todd, the 2011 Mitsubishi Motors champion and double Olympic gold medallist;
Å Paul Tapner, champion in 2010;
Å Andrew Hoy, triple Olympic team gold medallist, back at Badminton after a short absence;
Å Oliver Townend, another who has done the Badminton and Burghley double.
In among them will be Rosie Thomas, who will be travelling down from Bockleton, near Tenbury Wells, with her chestnut gelding Barry’s Best.
However, all sentimental eyes will be on James Robinson and Comanche. Fingers crossed that they come home safe.