Australian riders are in the top two positions after the first day of dressage at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, with Badminton winner Sam Griffiths and Happy Times scoring 40.2, ahead of Andrew Hoy and Rutherglen on 40.8.
The USA’s Allison Springer is in third place with Arthur, the horse she partnered to sixth place at Burghley in 2012. The flamboyant chestnut produced a punchy, active test to score 41.2.
“This was probably his best performance here to date,” Springer said. “We made an uncharacteristic mistake with our timing in the first flying change, but luckily one of the judges didn’t notice.”
Piggy French lies fourth and is the best British rider with Westwood Mariner, while Marilyn Little (USA) and Izzy Taylor (KBIS Briarlands Matilda) complete the top six.
“Happy Times is feeling as good as ever,” Griffiths said of the 15-year-old gelding. “I felt very relaxed going into the test and I think that filtered through to him. The test felt very natural.
“I knew he could go in and do a beautiful test and he came up with the goods,” said Griffiths, who had a quick turn around after competing at WEG last week. “Luckily he’s an established horse, so it was easy to do. It was less easy to get all my washing done!” he joked.
Griffiths suffered an anxious moment at Wednesday’s trot-up when Happy Times was held for re-inspection. “I’m not sure what the vets saw, but obviously I wouldn’t have wanted to run him if he wasn’t 100%. The vet who examined him couldn’t find anything amiss and he trotted up really nicely second time.”
Hoy, meanwhile, credits Rutherglen’s performance to help from Olympic dressage team gold medallist Laura Tomlinson.
“At Luhmuhlen [in June] I overdid the warm-up and Rutherglen didn’t do a good test at all,” he explained. “He’s an anxious horse and if he makes a mistake it worries him. Laura told me to aim for a relaxed test today – something that I could build on in the future.”
Dressage resumes at 10am on Friday when Tim Cheffings will be first into the arena with Alinero Van Het Scharenberg. William Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero) and Andrew Nicholson (Avebury) – two of the bookies’ favourites for the title – will perform their tests in the afternoon, with Nicholson the last to go at 4.21pm.
In the morning, Kiwi riders Tim Price (Ringwood Sky Boy) and Jonathan Paget (Clifton Promise) perform their tests, with their WEQ squad mate Jonelle Price starting in the afternoon on The Deputy.
End of FEI Classics series
Burghley marks the climax to the FEI Classics 2013/2014 season, and while William Fox-Pitt has a 10-point lead to win a fourth title, close challengers include Oliver Townend (GBR), Tim Price (NZL), Sam Griffiths (AUS), and Phillip Dutton (USA), and Andrew Nicholson (NZL) has the chance to leapfrog into the top five.
Fox-Pitt, who last weekend was the hero of Britain’s silver medal team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, is a record six-time winner of Burghley and has two fancied rides: the versatile Bay My Hero, winner of Kentucky this year, and Burghley specialist Parklane Hawk, the winner in 2011 and third in 2012 and last year.
Townend, the HSBC FEI Classics champion in 2009, has formed a powerful partnership with the former Andrew Nicholson ride Armada, one of the most athletic horses on the circuit – they were second at a tough Badminton in May and fourth at Burghley in 2012.
Price, a CCI4* Luhmühlen (GER) winner this year, had a good Badminton on Ringwood Sky Boy, and Griffiths, the Badminton winner, rides the veteran Happy Times, a horse with a good record at Burghley. Phillip Dutton (USA) invariably rises to the challenge at Burghley and this time brings the handsome Mighty Nice.
The combination that will attract most attention, however, is Andrew Nicholson (NZL) and Avebury, who made history with their back-to-back Burghley victories in 2012 and 2013.
It would be some feat to make it a hat-trick – the only combination to win a CCI4* three times is Kim Severson and Winsome Adante at Kentucky (in 2002, 2004 and 2005) – but the New Zealand pair have a great relationship. They won two competitive CIC3* – Barbury Castle and Gatcombe Park – this summer and could go close.
FEI Classics 2013/2014 Leaderboard (after 5 of 6 events)
1. William Fox-Pitt (GBR) 30 points
2. Oliver Townend (GBR) 20
3. Tim Price (NZL) 17
4. Sam Griffiths (AUS) 15
5. Christopher Burton (AUS) 15
6. Phillip Dutton (USA) 15
7. Maxime Livio (FRA) 12
8. Lauren Kieffer (USA) 12
9. Michael Jung (GER) 12
10. Sonja Johnson (AUS) 12