It was predicted – and Australia’s Chris Burton didn’t disappoint as he set the Land Rover Burghley arena alight in the last session of dressage with a superlative display on Nobilis 18. Dressage scores in the low 30s are as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth at four-star level, so the duo’s final mark of 30.2 was proof of something special.
“He’s a beautiful mover and today he was really relaxed, which meant I could ride forward and attack the movements,” said Chris, who was poised for a top finish at Badminton with this horse earlier in the year before suffering an unlucky tip-up across country.
“Nobilis was fantastic and I’m so proud of him,” he says of the 11-year-old, who was initially produced by German superstar Michael Jung. The pair have won four of their nine international starts.
He pushed overnight leader Bettina Hoy (GER) back into second place and New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson, who pulled out a personal best test on Nereo, is in third place at the event that brings out the best in him, on mark of 35.2 which included a flurry of 9s towards the end.
Another of our New Zealanders, Caroline Powell, who won Burghley in 2010 on Lenamore, is right up at the sharp end, in fourth place on Onwards And Upwards with the good score of 37.8.
Two Irish-bred horses are in sixth and seventh: The Blue Frontier, ridden by dual Burghley winner Andrew Hoy, and last year’s runner-up, Ringwood Sky Boy with Tim Price. Tim is also in 26th place with a score of 49.5 on Bango, who he rode on the first day of dressage.
Two seasoned New Zealanders complete the top 10, with two-time winner Blyth Tait (Bear Necessity V) on 40pen heading five-time winner Sir Mark Todd (NZB Campino) on 42.2.
Blyth, who has only competed once at Burghley since he returned to the sport, is thrilled at the progress made by his mount, an 11-year-old former hunter, following their 13th place at Badminton.
Germany’s Bettina Hoy, who had been in the lead after the first day, slipped to second aboard Designer 10 on a score of 34.5.
There were quite a few comments both from riders and onlookers about inconsistency in the dressage judging – particularly with the cluster of high marks awarded towards the end of the second day.
Jonelle Price, who rode on the first day and sits 22nd with 48.5 scored on Classic Moet, posted on Facebook: “Frustrating to watch Friday afternoon judging at its finest here at Burghley. No disrespect to the horses and riders that went this afternoon, but to have two of the first 53 combinations perform 40 or below tests, then seven of the last 17 is peculiar to say the least – and no, the draw is not in order of ranking!”
However, those who are early on in the draw may have the distinct advantage on cross-country day as the weather forecast is predicting heavy rain from lunchtime.
The Australians are also looking good after the first phase. As well as those mentioned above, Bill Levett is 12th on 42.5 on Improvise, Shane Rose on Virgil is in 13th place with 45.1 and Sonja Johnson on Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison is 19th on a score of 46.9.
Riders have labelled Mark Phillips’ cross-country track, which follows a similar route to last year but with plenty of new challenges, as a “proper four-star, Burghley track”.
Chris Burton isn’t allowing himself to get too carried away after the first phase. “I think I’m more terrified than excited. It’s hard to feel confident when you’re facing the cross-country at Burghley – it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been here, the Leaf Pit is still huge – but I’m on a blood horse and this place always gets me going.”
Tina Cook, who finished eighth last year with Star Witness and lies 40th at the end of dressage says: “Some fences, like Capability’s Cutting [fences 8 and 9] are softer than last year, but then the Land Rover Dairy Farm [fence 14] and the Trout Hatchery [fences 20 and 21] have more elements to them and are probably more difficult.”
Andrew Nicholson adds: “I think Mark Phillips has got the hang of how to make the time impossible. With the early fences coming thick and fast it becomes hard to make up seconds and that’s when people make mistakes. I’d be surprised if anyone makes the time.”
This report was compiled with input from the FEI news service and Burghley Horse Trials.