Burghley blog: Shorts, surprises and questions

  • I woke up this morning with my head buzzing with questions: Will the Americans give us a thrashing? Should I wear shorts? Am I going to buy the riding boots or that new girth?

    The shorts question was the easy one — it was overcast. Phew. The boots or the girth — that’s my secret. But are the Americans, in the shape of overnight leaders Sinead Halpin and Allison Springer, going to give us, and quite frankly every other nation, a thrashing? Well, if anything that looks more likely tonight than it did yesterday.

    This has been a day of surprises. I heard so much yesterday about this huge course that when I walked it this morning (for the first of two circuits, I’d like to add) it seemed big — yes — but exceptionally huge? No. Pah — that was my ignorance. As Caroline Powell said “the more times you go around the course, the more your opinion changes”.

    On the second circuit, watching the riders tackling the fences, my jaw almost stuck, it dropped so many times. The morning was filled with retirements and eliminations and sitting in the arena stands (exhausted) after my second circuit, many of those early horses looked tired too, but perhaps that was just because they, too, hadn’t had so many outings this year. But what a course — I think Captain Mark Phillips has excelled himself. It was tweaked to perfection and combined with the undulating topography of the Burghley estate, question followed question for those combinations sufficiently prepared to stay the course. The only quirk was condition of the ground, which added to the challenge for the riders.

    The day’s shocks? William Fox-Pitt retiring Seacookie, Izzy Taylor being best Brit from her round just after 1pm until Oliver Townend knocked her off the spot about 4pm, Mary King retiring Kings Temptress, Clayton Fredericks taking a tumble from Walterstown Don and his overnight third place.

    And then there was Sinead Halpin’s round, which was a masterclass in how it should be done and seemed to raise the bar for everyone who followed her. At this point I was sitting by the side of the course at fence 23. As she came down the hill everyone around me (me included) was rooting for her, big grins on faces as she sailed over the fence making it look like a one-star.

    Then it sank in that that was probably going to be the nail in the coffin for the Brits… What an exciting end to our day as we willed Oliver Townend (Armada) and William Fox-Pitt (the fabulous Parklane Hawk) to finish on their dressage scores without any time-penalties. No pressure boys! Oliver delivered and William had just 2.4 time-penalties.

    So, tomorrow is another day, there’s still a chance we could win — this is horses after all. Sinead has just one fence in hand over Andrew Nicholson (and last year she had two down) and there isn’t even a fence between Andrew and William or William and Oliver. Now is it going to be a shorts day…

    Follow every phase of Burghley as it happens using H&H Live, our interactive written commentary supported by Baileys Horse Feeds. Review the dressage and cross-country and join in tomorrow from 10.15am at www.horseandhound.co.uk/burghley2012live.

    Make sure you buy H&H next week (6 September) for our 10-page special Burghley report, with full analysis of every phase, comments from dressage expert Sally O’Connor and former winner Ginny Elliot and more.

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