Sir Mark Todd is leading the charge at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, with an impressive dressage performance on the big-moving grey Kiltrubid Rhapsody earning him 73.6% for 26.4 penalties.
Tim Price is right behind him, second on Ringwood Sky Boy, on 26.9.
Incredibly, this is Mark’s 39th year competing at Burghley, and he’s made no secret of the fact he’d love to win the title for a sixth time. He’s thrilled with ‘Raps’ test, especially after two course errors marred his score yesterday with NZB Campino, who is now sitting 12th.
“He was very good — I’m very pleased with him,” says Mark. “He just keeps getting better and better. He’s got a wonderful temperament; he can go out there and it just doesn’t bother him at all. He actually got a bit nervous in the collecting ring, as there was quite a lot of noise around, but you can’t really hear it when you get in the ring, and he settled back down.”
“He skipped a bit in the extended trot, which he never does, but for his level of training I don’t think he could have gone much better. Bless him — he just loves showing off in there.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few wins, and of course, you’re always looking to win another one — and I probably won’t have too many more chances. I wouldn’t say Burghley is his ideal track, but he’s a real trier and just keeps galloping and jumping, so we’ll see. There’s a long way to go yet. He’s fitter than he was at Badminton, and a bit harder now, but this is a different kind of track with a lot of hills.”
Tim agrees that Marl Phillips’ course will be very demanding. “I think it is bigger this year though possibly with a little less technicality in places. It keeps coming. All the way home there are big fences, whereas in the past sometimes you can get to eight or nine minutes and you just have to mind yourself coming home. This year there are still some big questions in that last bit that I think will be influential and in particular for people going for the clock.”
He’s rapt with 15-year-old Ringwood Sky Boy’s dressage performance, and ‘Oz’ seems to enjoy Burghley, having been fifth last year, fourth in 2016 and second in 2015.
“It’s been slightly snakes and ladders with him, but not today — maybe now that he’s 15, he’s maturing and we’ve figured him out. I’m mostly pleased that we stood still [in the halts] three times! He went sideways at Rio and has done it here, and if you can’t stand still, you can fall down the scoreboard pretty dramatically. He just tends to get a bit excited and can’t contain himself, but he went in there and stood quietly.”
Oz was purchased as an unruly six-year-old, who both reared and bolted, for just £3000.
“I tried to sell him for a few years but no one wanted him, so I carried on. He’s such a character and now, I wouldn’t be without him.”
Tim is also 16th equal on Bango, along with Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs, who is on four-star debut.
Andrew doesn’t feel that the mark reflects his test: “I was very pleased with him — I thought he was smart, classy, and active throughout, but I guess I’m out of favour with the ground jury,” he says. “He felt very cool in his brain. He’s come on mentally, and he’s a lot stronger in his body, but the scores didn’t match what I felt, and they didn’t match what I’ve seen in some other tests this week. But we’ll just have to get the other phases right.”
Andrew is also 29th aboard Jet Set IV. Caroline Powell and On the Brash sit in in 37th equal on 35.1 Ginny Thompson and Star Nouveau in 48th on 36.5 and Dan Jocelyn aboard Dassett Cool Touch in 49thequal on 36.6.
Defending champion Oliver Townend, who was expecting to dominate, has all three of his rides in the top seven; third on MHS King Joules, fifth on Ballaghmor Class and seventh on Cooley SRS.
The scores are very close, with just six penalties separating the top 20.