As anticipated, the reigning Olympic and European champion Michael Jung has made quite an impression on his first visit to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and is in the lead after the first day of dressage.
The British event is the sixth and final leg of the FEI Classics series for the season, and the German rider is lying second in the rankings behind his compatriot Ingrid Klimke.
Burghley’s Ground Jury, President Nick Burton (GBR), Andrew Bennie (NZL) and Christina Klingspor (SWE), unanimously placed Jung out in front on his first ride, FischerRocana FST, with a mark of 34.2 for a classy test that was beautifully light, harmonious and happy.
“She was very relaxed, easy to ride and gave me a good feeling,” said Jung of the 11-year-old mare on whom he won Kentucky, second leg of the FEI Classics 2014/2015.
“It was nearly the very best test we can do. She is more used to doing dressage on a surface than on grass, but the ground here in the arena was very good and had a lot of give and grip, which allowed her to move well,” Jung said.
Australia’s Andrew Hoy, who first won Burghley at the age of 20 in 1979 on Moon Fleet before Jung was even born, also broke the 40-penalty barrier and is in second place with Rutherglen on a score of 37.8 after a reliably smooth and attractive test.
Hoy, 56, is due a change of luck: he fell in the water on both his rides at Badminton, although he had a good run when finishing seventh on his Burghley ride Rutherglen, a powerful Hanoverian gelding, at the recent Aachen CIC3*.
“The sport as a whole and the standard of dressage has moved on enormously in the past 11 years – the test I rode today was way ahead of what I did in 2004,” Hoy said.
Another rider who will not remember Hoy’s first Burghley win is third-placed Niklas Bschorer, of Germany, who scored 39.2 in a well-ridden test on Tom Tom Go 3. At 20, he is the youngest in the field of 74 runners but his riding style is mature.
Bschorer’s Badminton debut ended abruptly when his air-jacket blew up on the cross-country, but he was ninth at Luhmühlen in Germany in June and could easily trouble his seniors this weekend.
“It is amazing to be here riding,” Bschorer said. “Tom Tom Go also did a good test at Badminton, but we still made some mistakes and we will be trying to iron these out over the winter. Overall, though, I am very happy.”
Bschorer is based with Catherine Burrell in Wiltshire while he mulls over his options, which will probably include going to university to study economics.
There were loud cheers for the diminutive Rosalind Canter and the giant 173cm Allstar B. The British pair have made an impressive start at their first CCI4* and are best of the home side in fourth place on 40.2 after a calm and accomplished performance. Canter took over the ride on the 10-year-old Allstar B, a Dutch warmblood by Ephebe For Ever, in 2012. Their best international result is seventh at Bramham CCI3* last year.
“The cross-country is really big!” she said. “I’m slightly terrified but really excited. I’m over the moon to have done a mistake-free dressage test here,” she added. “The more noise and people the better for him. I’d hoped to score in the 40s, so to be nearly in the 30s is great.
“I’ve been coming to Burghley for years to watch as it’s my local event and I’ve got lots of friends here today supporting me. I had wanted to do my first four-star before I was 30 – I’m 29 and three-quarters – so I’ve just got there!”
Australians Christopher Burton (Haruzac), Sam Griffiths on his 2014 Badminton winner Paulank Brockagh, and Paul Tapner (Vanir Kamira), all of whom have yet to win at Burghley, occupy the next three places. Pippa Funnell (GBR), who triumphed here 12 years ago, is eighth on Redesigned.
Funnell was, as ever, endearingly emotional as she left the arena, having scored 43.0 on the 14-year-old chestnut owned by Denise and Roger Lincoln, owners of her 2003 winner, Primmore’s Pride. Redesigned, a magnificent chestnut by Canute, promised much when fifth at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, but has been a difficult horse to manage.
“The greatest thing with this horse is that he’s relaxed today,” she said. “It’s all about the cross-country with him and it’s hard to keep him focused in the arena.”
When asked about her chances this weekend, the former dual European champion replied: “Everyone knows that I always work on negative psychology, I’m never confident. I doubt myself, but not my horse, who has all the ability in the world. I’ve just got to try to hold him!”
In all, there were eight Burghley first-timers in the arena on Thursday, with six more to come on Friday. Among those on the first day was Lynne Symansky, one of three from the USA competing this year.
She kicked off her campaign with a dressage score of 47.7 aboard the 12-year-old ex-racehorse Donner, which left her in 14th place at the end of the first day.
“The dressage isn’t an easy phase for him. He’s been wild for the last two days and I’ve had to work him really hard, but I hoped he’d put on his big boy pants in the warm up and knuckle down,” said Symansky, who runs her eventing operation from Virginia.
This is not only a first visit to Burghley for the 32-year-old, but it is also her first three-day event on British soil. “I competed in France [at Pau] in 2013, but this is something different altogether. I’m not used to seeing so much lush, green [grass],” she said.
Of the cross-country test Symansky added: “He’s thoroughbred and he loves to run. Sometimes I have to be a bit creative with the lines I ride on him, but he’s bold and goes forever, so this course is made for him.”
Another newcomer to Burghley is Charlotte Agnew, who has four CCI4* completions under her belt. She finished day one on a score of 53.5 in 23rd place, riding the family’s home bred Out Of Africa Two.
“I thought his trot work was soft and relaxed but he struggled a bit in the canter, and I’m not quite sure when his tongue popped over the bit but that will have cost us marks,” she said.
Alan Nolan and Bronze Flight posted a score of 56.5 to lie in 32nd place overnight. One of the few true amateur riders competing at the top level, Nolan works full-time for Gain Horse Feeds as a Business Development Manager, and competes two event horses. “I’ve worked on our tradestand here for the last five years, wishing I was riding, so to be standing here in my riding kit is amazing,” he said.
“The cross-country is massive; I’ve walked it twice now, the second time after last night’s rain hoping that the fences might have shrunk a bit, but they haven’t. Bronze Flight is very precious to us, I just want to complete – ideally with a clear round, but a completion would be amazing.”
It is a first CCI4* for both Abigail Boulton, one of the youngest riders this year, and Tilston Tic Toc. With a score of 59.3 the pair lie in 35th place at the end of day one.
“I’ve been riding him for five years, having moved over from a 14hh pony, so to be here now is surreal. Our dressage was the best that I could have hoped for, with thanks to Jeanette Brakewell who has taken me under her wing.
“The cross-country is big and bold but what I expected, and I’ve already decided on one long route, at the Dairy Mound. It’s our strong phase though, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Abigail, who works part-time at a wedding venue near Burton-on-Trent.
Ben Way, 27, kicked off his campaign on Galley Light on Thursday morning with a dressage score of 60.2 for 36th place overnight. “He got a bit tight in the arena and some tension crept in. His flying changes were better than at Badminton, but some of the other bits weren’t as good,” he said.
“I’ve been coming to Burghley for years as a spectator, so to be here as a competitor feels quite surreal; it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Way, who works full-time as a chartered surveyor and land agent. “This is a four-star that you want to tick off this list; the cross-country always causes trouble and you just want to get round. Galley Light is thoroughbred and he gallops, stays and jumps, so I hope we will have a good time.”
Cross-country course designer Mark Phillips has set riders an intriguing test as he has reversed the direction of his track. This means that the Lion Bridge water complexes, where crowds of spectators lean over the bridge to get a bird’s eye view of the action, come up early at fences 4, 5 and 6.
Capability’s Cutting, at fences 9 and 10, has possibly the most difficult obstacle on the course, an acutely angled corner, and at 18 there is the traditional enormous white oxer at The Maltings. The famous Trout Hatchery (20-21) has five efforts, but riders will not be able to relax after that as the notorious Discovery Valley (24 and 28) and Leaf Pit drop (26, 27) are still to come.
“The course here is very different to the other four-stars, it looks tough with lots of ups and downs,” said Michael Jung, whose past CCI4* successes include a win at Luhmühlen, second place at Badminton and third at Pau. “I will start out steadily and, hopefully, if my horses are giving me a good feeling, I will be able to go for the time. I’m very happy to be here, it’s a fantastic competition.”
On Friday, Jung will ride his London 2012 double Olympic gold medal partner La Biosthetique Sam. Funnell, who has withdrawn Mirage d’Elle, rides Second Supreme, Jonelle Price (NZL) who has withdrawn The Deputy, rides Classic Moet, and Christopher Burton, Sam Griffiths and Paul Tapner all have their second horses.
There’s also six-times winner William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on his only ride, Fernhill Pimms, plus five-time winner Sir Mark Todd (NZL) on Leonidas ll. Last of all is the 2009 winner Oliver Townend (GBR) on the brilliant CCI4* horse Armada.
Additional reporting: Burgley Horse Trials
Results after first day of Dressage
1 Michael Jung/FisherRocana FST (GER) 34.2
2 Andrew Hoy/Rutherglen (AUS) 37.8
3 Niklas Bschorer/Tom Tom Go 3 (GER) 39.2
4 Rosalind Canter/Allstar B (GBR) 40.2
5 Christopher Burton/Haruzac (AUS) 41.2
6= Sam Griffiths/Paulank Brockagh (AUS) 42.5
6= Paul Tapner/Vanir Kamira (AUS) 42.5
8 Pippa Funnell/Redesigned (GBR) 43.0
9 Georgie Spence/Wii Limbo (GBR) 45.2
10 Jodie Amos/Wise Crack (GBR) 43.9
Images below © Mike Bain