New Zealand’s Mark Todd has made an excellent start to his Burghley Horse Trials campaign, taking the dressage lead with a mark of 36.7 in the four-star event in Britain.
Todd, 61, has won Burghley five times, the last in 1999, so is keen for a win this century. His first ride there was nearly 40 years ago.
Todd and his German-bred 13-year-old Leonidas II made an elegant picture, the bay gelding remaining obedient yet lively and light in his paces as well as beautifully supple.
In a star-studded line-up, the double Olympic champion heads the USA’s Lauren Kieffer on Veronica ll by just 0.3 of a penalty, with world number one and FEI Classics leader Michael Jung now in third on La Biosthetique Sam.
“Finally, this horse is starting to grow up. When I got him as a six-year-old he was so impetuous, but now he knows what he’s meant to do and I’ve got every confidence in him,” Todd said.
He felt it was one of the best tests Leonidas II had done, and he’s now looking forward to the Mark Phillips-designed cross-country.
Kieffer and the mare Veronica have a second place at Kentucky 2016 and 17th at Badminton this year under their belt, but it is their first visit to Burghley.
“Most of the American riders are sitting on thoroughbreds, so we’re pretty happy about tomorrow’s cross-country,” Kieffer said, “but Burghley is something that’s in a class of its own and we have all studied it pretty carefully.”
Two more senior riders, Andrew Nicholson (NZL), 55, on Nereo and Britain’s Kristina Cook, 46, on Calvino ll, scored under 40 penalties and are in close contention in fourth and fifth places. Nicholson, currently fourth in the FEI Classics, has also won Burghley five times, although never on the 17-year-old Nereo, his winning mount at Badminton this year.
Cook, a multiple winner of team medals, including at the recent FEI European Championships in Poland, is renowned for her skill as a cross-country rider but has never won a CCI4*, and her mark of 39.6 may give her the best chance yet.
“I don’t really do dressage in the 30s! So I’ll be going for it tomorrow. Calvino is only small-framed but he has the heart of a lion,” Cook said.
Some of Todd’s compatriots are also well placed after the dressage, with Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy sixth on 41.3, and he is also 17th equal with Xavier Faer on 46.5. Caroline Powell and Onwards and Upwards scored 49.5 to sit in 27th with Nicholson and Qwanza right behind them on 49.6. Powell is also in 44th with Spice Sensation on 55.7.
Cross country challenges
Todd said he planned to take all the direct routes. “Burghley is always Burghley. It is big. I would say he has maybe made it a little less technical than last year but you would be very foolish to take it cheaply,” he said.
Nicholson, who is also a five-time winner at Burghley, has a similar game plan for his two mounts.
“I will start off positively and ride according to plan,” he said. “My main plan is to go direct everywhere. Once you start going long ways you can mount up an awful lot of time faults.”
After his test in Thursday, Michael Jung said Sam was on good form. “You have to be 100% perfect in all phases to win and this was not our best dressage performance, but I think the cross-country is tough enough to change the result.”
Tim Price also has two on the card and is confident both will give a good showing.
“It is a three-phase game here,” he said. “I think these horses are both all-rounders. They are not out and out dressage horses, so they have both done their optimum work (with their dressage) and that is the best I can expect from them. I think they could both be well in touch with a good result with a couple of good days ahead of them.”
Caroline Powell is predicting the hard and fast conditions will see a few come home “pretty close to the time”.
“I think it is going to jump big and it will have its problems,” she says. “You go clear and inside time and you will be sitting in a better spot. It is never a dressage competition here.”
Tina Cook will be first out on the cross-country course on Saturday at 11.30am on Star Witness, currently 40th after dressage.
Result after dressage:
1: Sir Mark Todd/Leonidas II (NZL) 36.7
2: Lauren Kieffer/Veronica II (USA) 37.0
3: Michael Jung/La Biosthetique Sam FBW (GER) 38.9