BY WENDY NIX
Coming just a week after the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) one would be forgiven for thinking the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, which start on September 4 with the final day on Sunday, would be a damp squib – far from it.
A host of top-ranked riders from 11 nations will compete at the Stamford, Lincolnshire, venue, many of them with every chance of taking home the £62,000 first prize. But perhaps none will be as keen as New Zealand rider Andrew Nicholson, who is on for a hat-trick at this prestigious 4* event, or Australian Sam Griffiths, winner of Badminton earlier this year, who could complete the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam (consecutive wins of Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky).
Andrew, who won on Avebury in 2012, was runner-up on the same horse last year. However, the subsequent disqualification of winner Jock Paget with Clifton Promise promoted Andrew to first place. Should he ride Avebury to victory again, the pair will create an unprecedented ‘three-in-a-row’. Andrew also has Nereo entered while Sam, who won the first ‘leg’ of the Grand Slam on board Paulank Brockagh, will be looking to win on the 15 year-old Happy Times.
Kristina Cook and De Novo News, although entered, will very likely be on duty at WEG so local interest focuses once again on Clare Lewis and Sidnificant, another 15 year-old. The combination suffered an uncharacteristic blip at Badminton so will be looking to reaffirm their 4* form with a double clear in the jumping phases having finished in the top twenty here last year.
Event Director Liz Inman said: “I am being realistic and optimistic about this year’s competition, it’s a truly international field and Mark Phillips, the course designer, has produced a magnificent 4* track”.
Mark Phillips has once again brought fresh ideas and ingenuity to the course, making best use of its undulating terrain and enhancing it where appropriate. Early on, both the arena fences and Discovery Valley are variations on themes from previous years; the former bringing back the hurdles which can be jumped in a tight or looping serpentine with the latter, as introduced last year, jumped twice (Fences 5abc and 9abc), incorporating a touch of element re-siting. The Planet, which caused a fair amount of grief in 2013 has been replaced by a narrow brush (5c) requiring extreme accuracy.
The riders, however, will find the Planet two fences later (7a) at the revamped Leaf Pit. This fence featured at the London Olympics, as did the next part of the combination, the Crescent Moon (7b); a swift descent down the steep bank will bring riders to the Sun (8), a jump-through fence.After negotiating Discovery Valley again, riders then face a re-sited Herbert’s Hollow, an oxer with a dip in front which will induce much head-scratching as to the best manner of approach.
Down the hill to the new airy V-Rails with ditch under; here riders will have three options, go left, right or straight ahead, and then it’s up to the Trout Hatchery which has been completely redesigned with one element in the water (13) and a three-part combination, into and out the Upper Hatchery with the final element under a tree.
At the Maltings, Fence 16 is the existing huge white oxer standing at maximum width and height, followed by the Malting’s Bounce, a double of brushes going uphill with a bounce between, described by Mark as requiring “a massive big effort”. Next is the Rolex Combination, another variation on a theme, demanding accurate riding.
At the top of the long hill comes the Cottesmore Leap (22) and here Mark has brought in an easier, but much-longer routed, alternative before riders run down Winners’ Avenue and head for home – but with a further 12 jumping efforts and two more water splashes before crossing the finish line.
Of course, Burghley is not just about Saturday’s cross-country; as well as two full days of dressage beforehand plus the show jumping on Sunday – once horses have passed the veterinary inspection that morning – there’s the shopping with seemingly miles and miles of quality trade stands, Pony Club Team Jumping, Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse Finals and displays in the main arena each day except Saturday.
For further details including ticket prices and an online course walk, visit: www.burghley-horse.co.uk