New Zealander Jock Paget is top of a closely bunched group of riders after the dressage phase at Britain’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, the final event of the FEI Classics series this season.
Paget and Clifton Promise earned 38.8 for a fluent, well-executed performance but only two penalties covers the top six riders, four of whom are Antipodeans, and the atmosphere is one of excited anticipation ahead of Saturday’s cross country test.
“He was sensational,” said Paget appreciatively of the 16-year-old New Zealand thoroughbred Clifton Promise. “He is so professional, this horse, and he knows his job so well. He gave me everything, like he always does.
“He didn’t feel quite as well as I had him last week, but he has done two weeks of a lot of dressage which is a bit much for a thoroughbred.”
But Promise was not at all bothered by the atmosphere, with full grandstands around three sides of the arena.
“Every year I have worked with him he just gets better and better, and more relaxed in this situation.”
The pair were third after dressage at last week’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy, but after they had an early run-out on the cross country, Paget made the swift decision to pull up and re-route to Burghley because his team had already been eliminated.
FEI Classics leader William Fox-Pitt, a team silver and individual bronze medallist last week, was the only other rider to break the 40-penalty barrier and is in second place on 39.5 on his Kentucky winner, Bay My Hero.
Fox-Pitt’s main worry had been how to contain the exuberant bay gelding who stood on his hind legs at the first horse inspection and is, according to his rider, “good at getting loose”.
Fox-Pitt was quick to credit the team at home – where his wife, Alice, is due to give birth to their fourth child at any moment – and also British team trainer Tracie Robinson. “He’s gone from a score of 44 in Kentucky into the 30s – it’s great to break the 40 barrier. He hasn’t met an atmosphere like this too many times, but he’s a bit of a show-off.”
First-day dressage leader, Badminton winner Sam Griffiths (AUS), was pleasantly surprised to be still so near the head of affairs. He is in third place with a score of 40.2 on Happy Times, a horse he has ridden since a five-year-old and one of the most consistent CCI4* horses of all time.
Griffiths’ compatriot Andrew Hoy (AUS), a former dual winner of Burghley (in 1979 and 2004), is fifth on Burghley debutant Rutherglen, just 0.3 behind the defending champions Andrew Nicholson (NZL) and Avebury.
The crowd-pleasing grey, the only horse ever to win Burghley back-to-back, was awarded 40.5 from judges Angela Tucker (GBR, President), Christian Landolt (SUI) and Ernst Topp (GER). He looked in perfect balance and outline, gaining a nine from Landolt for the extended canter and only losing marks for the final flying changes.
“He is a special horse, part of the family,” said a delighted Nicholson. “He knows where he is and that he’s not just here for a look around. It’s a lovely arena here; the crowd are far away enough not to be cramped but near enough to create atmosphere.”
By his own admission, Nicholson says it has been “a bit of a lean year” for him, and he’s “banking on this one to dig me out”.
A field of 64 will tackle Capt. Mark Phillips’s cross country on Saturday, after one horse – Shane Rose’s (AUS) CP Qualified –failed the first horse inspection.
Of the other Kiwi starters, Neil Spratt and Upleadon are sitting in 17th equal place, with Jonelle Price and The Deputy in 28th, her husband Tim aboard Ringwood Sky Boy in 34th, Megan Heath and her own St Daniel in 45th and Craig Nicolai and Just Ironic in 61st.
At first glance, the track appears to look very like last year’s but, says Nicholson, the changes are subtle. “There are enough new lines to make a difference. The going is superb but you will need more finesse than last year. You’ve got to ride positively, but remember that some of the lines are tighter.”
Fox-Pitt agreed that the course designer has been clever. “I’m very happy not to have to come off that horrible step at the Leaf Pit this time, but the middle part of the course – the Trout Hatchery, Maltings and Dairy Mound – are intense and will take some riding.”
Riders predict that the optimum time will be achievable because the footing is superb although, said Paget: “You can never respect Burghley cross-country enough. The time is tight, there are plenty of hills and the jumps are big, so there is plenty to deal with. You just have to get your head in the right place and focus on every fence as you jump it, and then hopefully you have a good day.”
Images below © Mike Bain
Results after Dressage
1. Jock Paget/Clifton Promise (NZL) 38.8
2. William Fox-Pitt/Bay My Hero (GBR) 39.5
3. Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 40.2
4. Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 40.5
5. Andrew Hoy/Rutherglen (AUS) 40.8
6. Alison Springer/Arthur (USA) 41.2
7. Aoife Clarke/Vaguely North (IRL) 44.7
8. Piggy French/Westwood Mariner (GBR) 45.8
9. Karin Donckers/Lamicell Unique (BEL) 46.3
10. Marilyn Little/RF Demeter (USA) 47.5