Imagine Pippa Funnell as the new Manchester United, William Fox Pitt as the new Chelsea and Leslie Law as the new Arsenal. It is hardly as far-fetched as it sounds, now that eventing is to have its own Premier League.
British Eventing has announced today (Thursday 5 May) that seven of its leading events will be linked together in a league where riders win points at each “match” and the overall winner lands a prize.
The top 16 riders at each event receive a number of points on a sliding scale from 30, for the winner of a four-star competition, to 1, for a 16th placement at a CIC or CCI three-star. If a competitor rides two horses at the same event, only the best placed mount will count towards the leaderboard. Whoever accumulates the highest number of points wins the £5,000 prize. It is not quite football money, but it is an incentive, and of course the real draw is in the glory of proving to be the best British eventer of the year.
“The leading time to establish the Premier League has been short, but £5,000 is a guaranteed minimum prize. We hope to see that figure increase over time,” says Tim Hadaway, BE’s former sports and technical manager, who has just been appointed to the position of Premier League director.
The Premier League includes both CCI — Badminton, Bramham, Blair Castle and Burghley — and CIC events — Chatsworth and Thirlestane — as well as the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe. Blenheim will not be part of the first Premier League because it hosts the European Championships this year, but it will join the 2006 edition.
“Blenheim have very much been part of the communication loop, but the decision was taken to exclude them this year because the principle is for the Premier League to be open to every rider. But they will be in from next year,” says Hadaway.
He also reveals that BE have plans to allow other events to join the league at a later stage. “The board will soon be discussing a document I am putting together on the criteria events will have to meet to apply [to be part of the League]. We are pulling together established events for the wider benefit of the sport. If an event can demonstrate in the future that it has the level of attention, attendance, exposure, prize money and so on, then it can apply to join the league.”
The Premier League leaderboard will be updated after each event and will be published on a dedicated website at: www.britisheventing.com/premierleague .
“I am thrilled about the league. The project has been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years but it has taken until now to take it forward. I am delighted [BE] did it, because many in the sport feel it will be of great benefit,” says Hadaway. “The time has been short, so we really wanted to link the events together and launch the competition, but there are plans for a lot of initiatives [to] look forward to in the future.”
Meanwhile, competitors planning to head for the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in September are in for a pleasant surprise. The event’s prize pot has gone up by a massive 40% over last year’s.
This brings the first prize to a mouth-watering £40,000 and the second prize to a more than respectable £30,000. Smaller increases go all the way down to 12th place.
“Our new sponsorship agreement with Land Rover has been instrumental in allowing us to fulfill our commitment to increase the prize money,” says incoming director of the Burghley Horse Trials, Elizabeth Inman.
This dramatic boost to the prize fund will be a fitting farewell to top-level long format eventing, as this year’s edition of Burghley will be the last ever four-star event in Europe to run roads and tracks and steeplechase.