Report by Wendy Nix
Leading from start to finish, Australian Christopher Burton and his 11 year-old Hanoverian gelding, Nobilis 18, landed the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials Trophy, sharing the £63,000 first prize money with the horse’s co-owners Sue Lawson and Carolyn Townsend.
Winner Christopher Burton at the water Photo: Kingswood Associates
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win,” said the rider, fresh from Rio where he helped his country win the Team Bronze medal. Taking second and third places were New Zealanders Andrew Nicholson on Nereo and Jonelle Price on Classic Moet.
As last year, the two best-placed Brits were Oliver Townend (seventh) with Samuel Thomas II and West Sussex’s Tina Cook who climbed up the leader board for tenth place on Star Witness.
Late on the second day of dressage Christopher Burton swept into the lead with an impressive test of 30.2 ahead of overnight leader Bettina Hoy on Designer 10 (34.5) and Andrew Nicholson (35.2). Sussex riders Tina Cook and Harry Dzenis (Xam) were down the field on 52.9 and 51.33 respectively, Harry in equal thirty-third and Tina equal fortieth places.
Cross-country course designer Mark Phillips had warned riders not to be complacent about his course and he was right. As ever, it required bold, attacking riding and any partnerships not on song were soon found wanting; several took the wise decision to retire gracefully while others just did not have Lady Luck on their side – an essential element of any eventing competition but even more so on Burghley’s hilly terrain.
Of the 78 starters just 40 completed, 28 of those jumping clear; no-one was inside the time of 11 minutes 11 seconds although Jonelle Price flew round, making it all look so easy despite the constant rain that soaked the thousands of spectators, to add just 1.6 time penalties to her dressage score of 48.5 and elevate her from twenty-second to fourthovernight. Her husband Tim added six time penalties to his 38.9 dressage on Ringwood Sky Boy to go into second, a place the pair finished on in 2015.
Oliver had three rides, Dromgurrihy Blue (formerly campaigned by Harry Dzenis) who gave him a feel for the course, Samuel Thomas II who rose from equal forty-second to lie tenth, and his best chance, MHS King Joules who had been in fifth after the first phase. However, a time consuming re-route at the Trout Hatchery and a refusal at the Discovery Valley (Fence 24) led to retirement.
Two notable scalps were taken at the Trout Hatchery, those of Andrew Hoy and Pippa Funnell. The latter had been going like a train on Second Supreme until he tripped in the water, depositing Pippa firmly on her backside on the bank. Andrew Hoy’s departure was quite spectacular, The Blue Frontier landed well over the drop fence then floundered, throwing Andrew over his head and full-length into the water, both of them completely submerged. Thankfully neither horse nor rider were hurt although ‘Blue’ spent some time shaking water out of his ears.
Tina Cook at the Trout Hatchery Photo: Kingswood Associates
Last year Tina and Star Witness survived a major hic-cup at the Trout Hatchery and once again fate seemed determined to blot their round; the horse tripped in the water, ripping a front shoe off in the process, but kept his feet. Tina stayed in the saddle and after gathering her knitting Star Witness boldly jumped the corner fence off one stride of trot.
Tina, deciding not to chance her luck went for the longer option on the final element but in turning, Star Witness lost both back legs on the slippery bank and sat down. Somehow Tina remained with him and they jumped out of the Hatchery as if nothing untoward had happened. The time lost here and in ensuring her mount stayed upright with only three shoes on the greasy bends cost Tina dear, adding 12.0 penalties to her dressage, however, they pulled themselves up to lie twelfth overnight.
Eight riders had problems at the Hatchery while the first part of the Discovery Valley caused more problems than anticipated, even by Mark Phillips, with another eight faulting here.
Of the forty horses to complete, 38 were presented for the final trot up and pleasingly not one was spun or sent to the holding box. Some even looked as though they could go round the cross-country again.
Despite this, clear rounds in the show jumping were hard to come by; just five adding nothing to their overnight score including Oliver and Samuel Thomas II, which put them up three places, and Frenchman Cedric Lyard who also went up three places for fifth on Cadeau du Roi.
Tina rued having one fence down on the normally clean jumping Star Witness: “He started to get a bit strong and ran on down to the gate and just rubbed it,” she said afterwards. Harry and Xam had a round they would rather forget, dropping nine rails to complete in twenty-eighth place. Harry commented: “At 15 years old he (Xam) is what he is. Yesterday he went like a dream, he’s amazing cross-country, but he doesn’t try over the coloured poles. I don’t beat myself up about it; it’s incredible to be here at all.”
Sussex competitor Harry Dzenis and X am
Photo: Kingswood Associates
With the last four to go, Jonelle had just one down as did Andrew and Nereo, plus two time penalties. Tim and Ringwood Sky Boy had three fences which dropped them below Andrew and Jonelle. In came the leader, Christopher Burton, with four fences in hand – and he used up every one of them! Had Andrew gone clear he would have won Burghley for a joint record sixth time, but it was not to be. Speaking afterwards the winner admitted: “It felt very special going into the arena in the lead. However, I tried to keep it interesting for everyone and make the score as close as I could!”