Toddy to the top!

While we all know how tough the cross-country challenge will be - and that the scoreboard will no doubt change - having Sir Mark Todd leading after the dressage, with Andrew Nicholson and Tim Price fourth and seventh, is the best possible start for the Kiwis!

We are taking our hat off for Sir Mark Todd and Leonidas II after the most fabulous start to their Burghley Horse Trials (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Hurrah for Sir Mark Todd, leading at the conclusion of the Burghley Horse Trials dressage phase. He might be 61 years old, with five previous wins in this event (his first win was 30 years ago, and the last win was 18 years ago!), but he is still as brilliant as ever. He’s still as humble as ever too, being quick to call his horse, Leonidas II, brilliant afterwards.

“I was really chuffed. I joked with someone beforehand when they asked how is he going, and I said it bought tears to my eyes, and it very nearly did! It is one of the best tests he has done. In the past he has done good tests but there have been little mistakes here and there. I couldn’t pick any real obvious mistakes.”

Sir Mark, who last won Burghley in 1999, scored 36.7, with the judge at E (Katarzyna Konarska) giving the pair 213, and Harry Payne at M awarding the lowest score of the three judges with 209.

Now 13, German-bred Leonidas has been with Sir Mark since he was about six years old.

Sir Mark Todd and Leonidas II as they impress the judges (Image: Libby Law Photography)

The next best placed competitor is American Lauren Kieffer on 37 with Veronica II, and Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW are third on 38.9.  Andrew Nicholson is also right on the pace, scoring 39.5 on Nereo.

Lauren Kieffer and the lovely mare Veronica II are sitting in second place (Image: Libby Law)

Andrew, too, was quick to praise Nereo. “He’s very reliable in the dressage now and he felt a pleasure to ride. All I can do is try to finish on my dressage scores, not worry about the other riders, just worry about myself, my horses and my game plan.”

Masters of consistency – Andrew Nicholson and Nereo (Image: Libby Law)

Tim Price is also right up among the leaders, finishing in seventh place on 41.3 with Ringwood Sky Boy and 17th on Xavier Faer, from day one on 46.5. Kristina Cook and Oliver Townend separate Tim and Andrew with Gemma Tattersall, Piggy French and Olivia Craddock the other British riders filling out the top ten.

Hopefully Burghley continues to be a happy hunting ground for Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy who are sitting in a handy position after the dressage phase (Image: Libby Law)

Our other New Zealand rider, Caroline Powell, is 27th on Onwards and Upwards with her score of 49.5, just ahead of Andrew on his second horse Qwanza on 49.6.  Caroline’s Spice Sensation is in 44th place on 55.7 so has some work to do, but this is Burghley and everyone is saying that it will be very hard to get around the course, let alone within the time set. Leaderboards will change, that is one thing we can all predict!

Caroline herself thinks that there will only be a handful of competitors within the time or close to it on the hard and fast track. “I think it is going to jump big and it will have its problems,” she says. “You go clear and inside the time and you will be sitting in a better spot. It is never a dressage competition here.”

Caroline Powell and Onwards and Upwards in the dressage arena. (Image: Libby Law)

Sir Mark is very respectful of the course but is pleased that he has a late draw. “Burghley is always Burghley. It’s big, there are lots of jumping efforts; I would say he [Captain Mark Phillips, course builder] has maybe made it a little less technical than last year, but you would be foolish to take it cheaply, so we will be going out there and riding it as it is hopefully supposed to be. I pretty much know what I want to do out there, which is take all the direct routes. It is just interesting to see how they ride, how other people doing a similar plan can make it work and work well. Sometimes you can get it wrong and what you think isn’t how it ends up riding, and then you have to change your plan – so, going late I will have a fair idea how everything is riding.”

Sir Mark Todd speaks with the press after his test on Leonidas II (Image: Libby Law)

Andrew Nicholson knows better than anyone how to ride this course, but when asked which fences stood out for him, Andrew laughed and said “all of them!”  He went on to say that Burghley is like all four-star events: you can’t let up around any of the course. “Once you leave the start box it is focus, concentration, composure right to the end, because when your horse gets tired and you think when you walk the course, this is an easy fence, then it can suddenly trip you up, so it is just concentration and composure all the way.”

Tim Price will also be concentrating from the very beginning and will be out first on Xavier Faer before going later on Ringwood Sky Boy. Tim outlined his plan with Debbie Higgs from An Eventful Life. “I think it does help with these two that their stride patterns are fairly similar. Also, the first guy, he doesn’t take a lot of energy to ride. He is not a horse that needs carrying or pushing or coercing; I just have to ride him in a good balance. The job begins at fence number three: it is very wide so you want to give them a good feel there so they feel like it [the course] is something they can cope with. Then the turn to the water is quite a surprise for them. If you have done all that in a nice smooth way, then you can apply a bit more intensity to the round.”

Sir Mark and his dog at Burghley (Image: Libby Law)

Sky Sport is showing Burghley on its sports pop-up channel with dressage highlights from 4.30pm and live cross-country action from 9.30pm right through to 4am. The show jumping will also be live from 12;30am through to 4am on Monday morning. Who needs sleep? GO THE KIWIS!