Britain’s Oliver Townend stormed to the top of the leader board at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials as some of the sport’s biggest names came to grief on a challenging cross country day.
Townend was the last to go of the 60 riders who set out on Captain Mark Phillips course, and he coaxed a beautiful round out of the relatively inexperienced Ballaghmor Class, to end the day at the top of the leader board on a score of 40.6.
“We lost a few seconds in the air over a few fences, but he’s different to what I’ve sat on in a long time, and he’s come here and proved it,” said Townend. “He was fairly wild as a youngster and has done lots of things in life that he shouldn’t – but then again, so have I. I had to convince myself more than anyone that it was the right thing to bring him here, but I know what he can cope with. Tomorrow’s another day but what he’s learnt out there and how he’ll come on from today makes him very exciting.”
British riders dominate the top ten with Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul pulling of a foot-perfect clear for second, and Izzy Taylor on Trevidden matching that for third.
“Arctic Soul was seriously aggressive today and wanting to get the job done – he is such a genuine, honest horse and knows he has to go through the flags,” said Gemma. “I’ve had a horrendous cold this week and I didn’t feel physically strong enough at certain points so had to rely on him, but he didn’t let me down.”
Taylor said: “Trevidden was super out there. I’ve only had the ride for a year and while we clicked straight away it takes time to build a partnership. A horse like that makes you get up in the morning.”
New Zealand’s Tim Price put his fall on first ride Xavier Faer behind him to finish with 5.2 time penalties on Ringwood Sky Boy for fourth place. “It was a bit hairy but his experience played a part here,” said Tim. “He’s one to throw his heart over and then figure out how to land at times, but he always tries and did really well today.”
Piggy French had a super ride aboard Vanir Kamira to finish just a few seconds over the optimum time and sit in fifth. “She was absolutely brilliant, the best she’s ever been by a country mile,” said Piggy. “She doesn’t feel that scopey at one-day events and tends to run with her head a bit low so I feel the need to balance her. She finished full of running so I’m kicking myself for not going faster at the start. It’s great to have a horse of that calibre, you don’t get many like that.”
After a heavy fall from first ride Qwanza, Andrew Nicholson’s reliable Nereo finished with 7.6 time penalties, leaving him in sixth. “When you have a horse like Nereo you’d have to be in a very bad way not to go [cross country] again,” he said. “I’d have liked to make the time, but Nereo hasn’t got the pace he used to have. I just hope to show jump clear and put the pressure on the others above me.”
Pathfinder Tina Cook riding Star Witness lulled spectators and competitors alike into a false sense of security as She flew around the challenging track clear and four seconds inside the time, making it look straightforward.
“I’m welling up,” she admitted after finishing. “I had the most amazing ride round there. Star Witness has engine and scope and can jump from any stride – if I ride positively he finds that extra stretch. It wasn’t easy but he tried his hardest.”
Leading the field after dressage, New Zealand’s Mark Todd had an unfortunate fall in Discovery Valley when Leonidas launched into orbit over the first element and pitched on landing, throwing Toddy over the front.
The USA’s Lauren Keiffer, in second after dressage, went clear but added 28 time penalties to drop down to 13th, and a very unusual run-out resulted in retirement for Germany’s Michael Jung on La Biosthetique Sam, third after dressage.
Captain Mark Phillip’s course proved to be as bold and influential as promised, with errors occurring around the track. “We knew it was big but the conditions were perfect,” said Captain Phillips. “We had 29 clear rounds, thre inside the time – if my daughter hadn’t fallen off I’d have had a 50% clear round rate. I was surprised more didn’t go long in Discovery Valley after last year, but in general the course rode very much as I expected.”
Photographs courtesy of Tanzy Lee