It was down the to the wire on cross-country day at The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials when the last rider to go – Britain’s Oliver Townend – coaxed a beautiful round out of his relatively inexperienced Ballaghmor Class, to end the day at the top of the leaderboard. Townend's 40.6 score sits him 2.4 points clear at this stage.
“We lost a few seconds in the air over a few fences, but he’s different to what I’ve sat on in a long time, and he’s come here and proved it,” said an emotional Townend. “He was fairly wild as a youngster and has done lots of things in life that he shouldn’t – but then again, so have I.
“I had to convince myself more than anyone that it was the right thing to bring him here, but I know what he can cope with. Tomorrow’s another day but what he’s learnt out there and how he’ll come on from today makes him very exciting.”
British riders also fill the next two spots, with Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul pulling of a foot-perfect clear for second, and Izzy Taylor on Trevidden matching that for third.
“[Arctic Soul] was seriously aggressive today and wanting to get the job done – he is such a genuine, honest horse and knows he has to go through the flags,” said Tattersall. “I’ve had a horrendous cold this week and I didn’t feel physically strong enough at certain points so had to rely on him, but he didn’t let me down.”
Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo Courtesy of Burghley Horse Trials.
Taylor said: “Trevidden was super out there. I’ve only had the ride for a year and while we clicked straight away it takes time to build a partnership. [A horse like that] makes you get up in the morning.”
New Zealand’s Tim Price finished 15th on his first ride, Xavier Faer, and completed with 5.2 time penalties on Ringwood Sky Boy for fourth place. “It was a bit hairy but his experience played a part here,” said Tim. “He’s one to throw his heart over and then figure out how to land at times, but he always tries and did really well today.”
Piggy French had a super ride aboard Vanir Kamira to finish just a few seconds over the optimum time and sit in fifth.“She was absolutely brilliant, the best she’s ever been by a country mile,” said French. “She doesn’t feel that scopey at one-day events and tends to run with her head a bit low so I feel the need to balance her. She finished full of running so I’m kicking myself for not going faster at the start. It’s great to have a horse of that calibre, you don’t get many like that.”
After a heavy fall from first ride Qwanza, Andrew Nicholson’s reliable Nereo finished with 7.6 time penalties, leaving him in sixth. “When you have a horse like Nereo you’d have to be in a very bad way not to go [cross country] again,” he said. “I’d have liked to make the time, but Nereo hasn’t got the pace he used to have. I just hope to show jump clear and put the pressure on the others above me.”
Leading the field after dressage, New Zealand’s Mark Todd had an unfortunate fall in Discovery Valley when Leonidas launched into orbit over the first element and pitched on landing, throwing Toddy over the front.
The USA’s Lauren Keiffer, in second after dressage, went clear but added 28 time penalties to drop down to 13th, and a very unusual run-out resulted in retirement for Germany’s Michael Jung on La Biosthetique Sam, third after dressage.
Captain Mark Phillips' course proved just as bold and influential as promised, with errors occurring around the track. “We knew it was big but the conditions were perfect,” said Captain Phillips. “We had 29 clear rounds, three inside the time – if my daughter hadn’t fallen off I’d have had a 50% clear round rate. I was surprised more didn’t go long in Discovery Valley after last year, but in general the course rode very much as I expected.”
Lynn Symansky and Donner, a 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Gorky Park X Smart Jane, by Smarten) owned by the Donner Syndicate, were the best of the U.S. riders, moving up from 11th to eighth after adding only 3.6 time on the tough course. Following cross-country she said, "I’ve really come to rely on [Donner]. He comes out and is so reliable and so quick that I could afford to take a few long routes. … For him, it actually rode a little bit better than I anticipated. He’s struggled with right-hand corners and runouts in the past, but now we can really put that behind us. The highlight was definitely the finish line! I had the advantage of seeing lots of people go, and seeing what worked and what didn’t work. There wasn’t one thing that I was really worried about, it’s just about keeping your head in the game and reacting to what’s in front of you.”
Boyd Martin also had a great day today aboard Steady Eddie, a 16-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred gelding (Jetball X Tudnela) owned by George and Gretchen Wintersteen and Denise Lahey and Pierre Colin. Just two time penalties boosted the pair all the way from 21st to 9th.
Mackenna Shea had one stop on course with Landioso to drop to 25th place. Savannah "Woodge" Fulton jumped clear, but added a bunch of time penalties. Unfortunately her horse, Captain Jack, got a cut on course and had to withdraw.
Jog in the morning followed by show jumping. Watch live on the Burghley Facebook page and catch up on all the scores here.