Five years ago today I missed the final phase of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. But I had a good excuse. I was giving birth. When my wee bundle of joy arrived, my first question, after “girl or boy?” was “Who won Burghley?”
Today I walked swathes of the course with my daughter on her fifth birthday, and tens of thousands of others. It’s been a day of terrific entertainment and drama, marred only by Nicola Malcolm’s awful fall, from which we all hope she recovers soon — and rather a lot of holds on the course.
With unusually high numbers of Burghley virgins (as one might anticipate in a World Championship year) it’s been good to see some of those first-timers showing real verve. But on the whole it has been a clear case of the 25 best riders in the world making it look easy, and the rest of the field making heavy weather of it.
Getting right up to the fences on the course (journalists have a bad but necessary habit of watching the action on the monitors on the press tent) it was fun to hear the rattle of hoof on timber again and be part of a huge crowd ooohing and aaahing at unfolding scenes.
The best oooooh was saved for Alex Hua Tian as he delivered an Olympic level acrobatics programme staying on ESB Irish Fiddle after the Rolex Combination. Somehow he made it back into the saddle, but retired soon after.
“He was just never going forward today,” Alex told me later. “He just looked at the crowds round Discovery Valley, snaked his way through there, and never really picked up again.” He must now decide whether to re-route to Pau.
Of all the combinations I have seen today, the smoothest unquestionably seemed to be Caroline Powell on her evergreen 17-year-old Lenamore. These two know each other well, and they ate every fence with relish.
Scotland-based Caroline would be a hugely possible winner if she holds her overnight lead through the final phase — and the first New Zealand winner for nine years.
Don’t forget to buy H&H next week (9 September) for a full 10-page report from Burghley, including comment from cross-country course-designer Mark Phillips.