Burghley cross-country as it happened

Drama at Burghley is always expected, and once again it delivered.

Burghley is known as one of the hardest four-star competitions in the world and once again proved that only those at the top of their game on the day could conquer the track.

Tina Cook was the pathfinder on Star Witness and made the cross-country look like this year’s Burghley was going to see lots of clear rounds, and that the time would be easy. The pair blitzed the course and made the time but we had a long wait until the next one who could repeat that feat.

The New Zealanders early in the draw were not able to match Tina’s performance. Andrew Nicholson was looking great with Qwanza when the new fence (9, 10, 11a & b), Storm Doris, a huge log and then on to an enormously wide corner, didn’t come off as planned and Qwanza decided it was a one-stride not a two-stride combination. They both took a heavy fall and Andrew looked very sore afterwards. While he was up on his feet quickly, as was the mare, he had to sit on the fence for a while to recover, but eventually walked off.

Andrew Nicholson and Qwanza at the Lions Bridge combination early in the course (Image: Libby Law)

Caroline Powell and Spice Sensation had a run-out at the skinny at the Trout Hatchery. Caroline quickly recovered and went on to finish, but with a bunch of time faults and 20 jump faults, finishing on a total of 110.1. For the mare’s first go at Burghley, it was a promising performance, so expect to see them back having another crack at this level.

Caroline was very pleased, saying afterwards that her mare had the heart of a lion. “I don’t think this will be her last – she was stunning. One stop on a huge track isn’t bad.”

Caroline Powell and Spice Sensation over the first of the combination known as Storm Doris (Image: Libby Law)

Tim Price and Xavier Faer looked fantastic and well within the time until the Leaf Pit towards the end of the course, a tricky combination which caused lots of problems throughout the day. Xavier Faer just didn’t see the last of the three elements and ran out. Tim took the foot off the pedal for the rest of the course and bought the horse home safely, adding 11.6 time penalties to their 20 to finish on the score of 78.1. This leaves them in 20th place at the end of this phase.

Tim Price and Xavier Faer over the second part of Storm Doris, a horrendously huge fence named after the storm that brought the trees down. This was the element that Andrew and Qwanza tipped up at. (Image: Libby Law)

Australian Andrew Hoy had a very soft run out, and while he did ride positively in many places, there were times, including a run-out, when he looked very tentative. He had a second run-out at the Leaf Pit at the same fence that caused Tim and Xavier Faer their issues. Fellow Australian Paul Tapner jumped a clear round on Bonza King of Rouges but had 29.6 time faults.

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam stunned us with a run-out at the Trout Hatchery. Michael jumped one more fence but then retired. Have we ever seen Michael walking home? No. The whole world gasped!  Afterwards he blamed himself for losing his rein and not being able to steer Sam to the right spot. He says that while he has a long drive home, and needs to make a new plan, he hopes he will be back to compete again in England in the future with 17-year-old Sam, and we hope so too.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul had all the form going into this competition and the pair lived up to their fine reputation, doing a great job. While there was a little hiccup jumping into the first at the Trout Hatchery, Gemma quickly opted for the alternative and still had enough time up her sleeve to finish four seconds under.

“He was really fiesty and strong to start with,” she said afterwards. Gemma herself was suffering from a “horrendous” cold and chest infection. “I started feeling out of breath, I felt like I couldn’t help him. He has got such an engine and I just pointed him.”

A brilliant display and performance from Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul – really on top of their game despite Gemma having a bad cold (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Jonelle helped with the commentary on BBC for a while, adding some insight into the competitors and their performances. She was asked how motherhood is, and replied that it certainly was different, and challenging. “I like to think of myself as an organised person but he’s thrown that out the window.” And is Otis a future four-star eventer? Jonelle said she was going to give him a tennis racket.

Zara Phillips was visibly upset, and cross with herself, after taking a tumble into the water at the Trout Hatchery when High Kingdom screwed badly over the skinny fence. The pair had been looking really great up until then.

Izzy Taylor was the fastest round on Trevidden, finishing 9 seconds under the time. Izzy has been having a great season and certainly looked all class today. “He was super out there, he loves to gallop.”  Even more impressive is the fact that the pair have only been together for a year.

Izzy Taylor is really rated as a cross-country rider and she and Trevidden flew around Burghley (Image: Libby Law)

American Lynn Symansky was another who had been ill leading up to the cross-country, but had a great round on Donner, and went up the leaderboard to finish in eighth place at the end of the day, just ahead of fellow American Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie, who incidentally is a New Zealand-bred thoroughbred who raced in Australia before turning to eventing. Boyd put in a great performance, finishing just over the time. They did have 50 penalties to their name for a while, but these disappeared fairly quickly – no doubt the Ground Jury overruled a flag decision by the fence judge.

Piggy French was another to put in a great performance, finishing just over the time on her mare Vanir Kamira, and joining her British girlfriends on the top of the leaderboard. “I feel a bit emotional actually, she just got out there and she was incredible. She’s a mare that loves to run with her head quite low. She finished so full of running, she’s a real little trier.”

Nereo and Andrew set off with Andrew looking no worse for wear from his earlier fall, and this time jumped the logs that had tipped him and Qwanza up earlier as perfectly as any. Andrew was a bit down on the time in the first part of the course and unfortunately just wasn’t able to make it up. There were a few gasps as the pair had a bit of an awkward jump in the Trout Hatchery, but luck was on his side this time.

Speaking to Clare Baldwin afterwards, Andrew said that the course rode like it walked: “very big in the beginning, quite small and a bit trappy later.” Talking about his fall on Qwanza, Andrew explained he was winded. “It took me a few seconds to get breathing again. My ribs feel a bit bruised but when you have a horse like Nereo on stand-by you make the effort.”

Andrew was disappointed but philosophical that he did have those time faults. “I would have liked to be under time but he’s like me, we are getting older and he doesn’t have the pace like he used to have.” Andrew finished 19 seconds over the time – 7.6 penalties – to have a finishing score at the end of the day of 47.1 and move into sixth place.

Another four-star cross country course completion under their belt – Andrew Nicholson and Nereo – clear but some time faults (Image: Libby Law)

Kiwi viewers’ and spectators’ nerves were tested when we had both Andrew and Sir Mark on the course, then Sir Mark and Caroline once Andrew had come home safely. Then it was Caroline and Tim on the track at the same time, so it was certainly intense for a while there!

Our first gasp with Sir Mark was over the huge Cottesmore Leap. He didn’t get a great stride to it but, while it wasn’t pretty, they cleared it with no issues. Toddy was making great time in the beginning part of the course, and took the longer option at the Trout Hatchery, but disaster struck when Leo’s landing gear didn’t work as normal over the first element of the Discovery Valley (26a) and the pair took a tumble. Both looked fine afterwards but Sir Mark was very disappointed.

“I thought we were sort of okay. The horse was going really well at that stage. He just over-jumped it; he got his head in the air a bit. Down we came. Very disappointing. It was there for the taking but not today. Really frustrating, disappointing for all his connections and for me.”

Disaster is about to strike Sir Mark Todd and Leonidas II at Discovery Valley (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Caroline Powell also took the long way through the Trout Hatchery on her second ride, Onwards and Upwards, determined not to repeat her earlier error there, and and the pair looked accomplished throughout the course. Onwards and Upwards seemed very professional and safe all the way around although not as fast as needed, and finished with clear jumping but 40 seconds over the time. Their final score was 65.5 and leaves them in 14th place going into show jumping.

Tim and Ringwood Sky Boy made us gasp again over the last of the Trout Hatchery and then when they belted the solid Irish Horse Gateway, and yet again as he so nearly had another run out at the Leaf Pit. Somehow the pair recovered, showing how much they trust each other, and the fence judge was able to mark them clear.  They finished 13 seconds over the time, and moved into fourth place on their final score of 46.5.

Afterwards Tim told Clare Baldwin that Ringwood Sky Boy “throws his heart over first” and agreed that there were a few hairy moments.  “There always are. I came down there [Leaf Pit], thinking ‘here I go again, you numpty’.” Tim says it was his horse’s experience which got them through, and was very happy to finish clear. “He tries his hardest but sometimes it is a bit messy. I am really happy with him. This is a good result on a day like today.”

Ringwood Sky Boy is having a good look at the first of the Discovery Valley combination but got successfully over this and all the other fences to be in fourth place going into show jumping (Image: Libby Law)

Oliver Townend was the last to go on Ballaghmor Class, and what a well-named horse. He was all class. Oliver really rates the 10-year-old grey gelding, and he certainly looks like a top prospect.

“He’s class, he jumped too big and did baby things. He went to the first fence looking at the crowd, and there are lots of things to improve on,” said Oliver afterwards. “It is very very good. The bigger the fence, the higher he goes. He’s a very good jumper.”

The best was saved until the last! Oliver Townend gave Ballaghmor Class a great ride around his first-ever Burghley and the horse responded so well that he went into the lead at the conclusion of the action-packed day (Image: Libby Law)

The pair finished with 0.4 time penalties, so Oliver’s score of 40.6 gives him a narrow lead over Gemma Tattersall on 43. Izzy Taylor is third on 45.6 with Tim fourth on 46.5. Piggy French is on 46.9 and Andrew is sixth on his score of 47.1.

All smiles for the British riders dominating the leaderboard after the cross-country. Oliver Townend, Gemma Tattersall and Izzy Taylor  (Image: Libby Law)