Britain’s Ruth Edge is in her customary position at the head of the leaderboard with 45.5 at the end of the first day of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
But Edge admits that Burghley, the finale of the 2011-2012 HSBC FEI Classics, is a bold step up in class for her mount, Rogersdale, one of a handful of 10-year-olds in the field, as he has done only one CCI3* at Tattersalls (IRL) in June, where he was seventh.
“He’s a big jumper with lots of scope and is genuine, but I’m realistic, it’s probably a year early for him,” said Edge of the Welton Ambassador bay gelding who was produced by the late Ian Olding (IRL).
“The distances encourage you to attack the course,” she said of the cross-country, “and the going is fantastic. It’s so spongy. It’s probably the best in the world.”
Jonathan Paget (NZ), number three in the HSBC Rider Rankings, only returned four days ago from celebrating his Olympic team bronze medal back at home in New Zealand, but he produced a focused performance to lie in second place, just 0.7 behind Edge, after an accurate test on the 13-year-old New Zealand thoroughbred Clifton Lush.
“My horse is the sort who is the same every day. He’s very level headed,” said Paget of Clifton Lush, the horse he rode to a fifth-place finish at Burghley last year.
Paget, 28, who only started competing as an 18-year-old when he was working as a bricklayer in Australia, is based in the UK and is trained by Andrew Gould (GB) in dressage and “the legendary” Luis Cervera (Spain) in Jumping. “My aim is to get more mileage at top level, and get a really major result,” he said.
William Fox-Pitt (GB) has made a fine start to his bid to win a third HSBC FEI Classics title. He is in third place at this stage, just one penalty off the leader, on the 13-year-old Seacookie, the runner-up at Burghley in 2010.
Fox-Pitt’s nearest rival for the US$150,000 prize in the HSBC FEI Classics is Andrew Nicholson (NZ), who is currently 15th on the relatively inexperienced Calico Joe. Nicholson, however, has the talented Avebury, runner-up at Burghley last year, to come on Friday.
Seacookie, a German-bred horse produced by Ingrid Klimke, spent 2011 on the sidelines with an injury and has been aimed specifically at an autumn campaign this year. “He’s had limited preparation but is in a very good frame of mind,” said Fox-Pitt. “He’s very concentrated and has done probably his best ever test.”
By contrast, the fourth-placed rider is competing at her first Burghley. Emily Parker (GBR), 22, who scored 48.2 in a composed test in the wet and windy conditions on the Dutch-bred Treefers, is the youngest rider in the field. The 2010 Young Rider European Champion confessed to a mixture of excitement and trepidation at her first CCI4*.
Oliver Townend, winner of Burghley and the HSBC FEI Classics in 2009, is in fifth place on ODT Sonas Rovatio, and Emily Llewellyn (GBR), another former Young Rider European Champion, is sixth on Pardon Me ll.
Another first-timer, Kristi Nunnink (USA), had a disconcerting experience when she lost her way in the canter work with her mare R-Star. Her test had to be interrupted by Ground Jury President, Sue Stewart (GBR), and there was a lengthy pause while Nunnink recovered her bearings. However, the error detracted little from Nunnink’s graceful performance on her attractive grey mare R-Star and the American pair are still in seventh place.
Germany’s Olympic team gold medallist Dirk Schrade, who said London “feels like a long time ago!” came back to earth with a mark of 52.7 on Hop And Skip, which he described as “disappointing”.
The Irish-bred chestnut by Skippy had been producing beautiful canter work in the warm-up arena but, his rider said, “became excited in the busy atmosphere and we made a few stupid mistakes.” However, Schrade, who is in equal 13th place, promised: “He is a great cross-country horse and that’s why I’m here. It’s not over yet!”
He’s right. There’s certainly lots more excitement to come, and the enthusiastic Burghley crowd are in for a treat today with the likes of Mary King (GBR), Bettina Hoy (GER), Kai Rüder (GER), Alison Springer (USA) and Sam Watson (IRL), plus Fox-Pitt, Nicholson and Townend on their second horses, yet to perform their tests.
Burghley by numbers
85 – the number of runners
11 – the number of nations
1 – the number of representatives for Ecuador, Lithuania and South Africa
49 – the number of CCIs won by William Fox-Pitt
6 – the number of Burghley victories for William Fox-Pitt
2 – the number of HSBC FEI Classics victories for William Fox-Pitt (2008 and 2010)
5 – the number of Burghley victories for Mark Todd (NZL) and Ginny Elliot (GBR)
19 – the age of the oldest horse, Comanche, ridden by James Robinson (GBR)
58 – the age of the oldest rider, Jean Teulere (FRA)
22 – the age of the youngest rider, Emily Parker (GBR)
5 – the number of former Burghley winners competing (Mark Todd, Mary King, Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt, Oliver Townend)
Results after first day of dressage
1 Ruth Edge/Rogersdale (GBR) 45.5
2 Jonathan Paget/Clifton Lush (NZL) 46.2
3 William Fox-Pitt/Seacookie (GBR) 46.5
4 Emily Parker/Treefers (GBR) 48.2
5 Oliver Townend/Sonas Rovatio (GBR) 48.3
6 Emily Llewellyn/Pardon Me ll (GBR) 49.0
7 Kristi Nunnink/R-Star (USA) 49.5*
8 Bill Levett/Hippolyte (AUS) 49.8
9 Izzy Taylor/Briarlands Matilda (GBR) 50.5*
10 Elizabeth Power/September Bliss (IRL) 51.5
(*denotes error of course)