Around 40,000 visitors will fill Burghley Park this Saturday for the cross-country day of one of eventing’s most challenging competitions. With Land Rover taking the reins as title sponsor and the first winner of the British Eventing Premier League being crowned in Sunday’s prize giving, this year’s Burghley Horse Trials is destined to be an extremely prestigious affair.

In keeping with Burghley’s latest innovations, a new custom-made trophy will be awarded to the winner, along with the dramatically increased prize money of £40,000. But first competitors from 10 nations must negotiate Captain Mark Phillip’s demanding new cross-country course. After a 15-year break Phillips has come back to Burghley and given the course a total revamp, designing 20 new fences and radically altering the route of the course.

“Burghley’s track is, as ever, big and technical” says Phillips, “Those that do well and take home the Land Rover prize money will know that they will be worthy contenders for next year’s World Equestrian Games in Aachen.”

The course starts in front of the house, where competitors will negotiate a large drawbridge, before entering the main arena where the action really begins. A trailer covered in flowers is immediately followed by a narrow fountain — a style of fence new to the eventing circuit. Having negotiated the narrow box fence directly after the fountain, horses will have had a taste of the commitment and bravery that is required of them throughout Phillips’ 31-fence course.

Fence 13, Capability’s Crossing, will undoubtedly cause a few problems. A big log is followed by a steep decent into the cutting where there is another equally big, yet narrow, log. “It is extremely squeaky,” says Phillips, one of the more tricky fences on the course”. The 3m wide and 4.7m high brush, the Cottesmore Leap at 17 is being jumped in the opposite direction this year and a new fence, The Egg Basket at 18 will require riders to obtain a good degree of collection before jumping through the narrow wicker obstacle.

But according to Phillips, it is fence 19, The Dairy Farmer’s Choice that is the most difficult on the course. A large oxer followed by six long strides to a narrow log is positioned to give horses maximum opportunity to run out. After walking the course riders might decide to opt for easier, more time consuming alternative. “If you’re going to win, you’ve got to do it,” Phillips explains.

Among the entries taking on the Burghley challenge are former winners William Fox-Pitt (2002) and Andrew Hoy (2004) and Olympic gold medallist Leslie Law. Andrew Nicholson (Lord Killinghurst) and Heidi Antikatzides (Fairfax) will no doubt provide strong opposition for the favourites along with Mary King (Call Again Cavalier).

Seventeen riders will be experiencing Burghley for the first time including Britain’s Harry Meade (Midnight Dazzler), Bryony Whittington (Burlington Bertie XII) and Daniel Leech (Upward Trend). American rider Kim Severson (Winsome Adante) is also making her Burghley debut. Having won the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event a record three times in the last four years as well as an individual silver medal at the Athens Olympics, Kim might threaten Britain’s chance of a home win.

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