Pippa Funnell has surrendered her lead – perhaps only temporarily – in the Masterfoods Burghley Horse Trials, where she is on course to win a record a third consecutive four-star title and, in the bargain, the Rolex Grand Slam worth $US250,000 (about £158,000).
On the eve of cross-country, she lost her advantage to Germany’s Bettina Hoy, the acknowledged queen of the dressage arena, who now holds a three-point lead on the big grey Woodsides Ashby.
Bettina will be hoping her win on this horse at the Martinvast CIC*** in France a fortnight ago signalled the end of a run of dire luck and erratic form. “That was just the job,” she said. “It put me right on track for Burghley.”
Bettina took a heavy fall at Lulworth at the end of July, in which she was concussed and strained ligaments in her leg. “I couldn’t ask [Woodsides Ashby] for as much as I would have liked, as my leg still feels week, but I will have the brace on tomorrow.”
Bettina’s best Burghley result was winning the 1997 European title on another grey, Watermill Stream. Woodsides Ashby has won at three-star level, but his first four-star run, at the 2002 World Games, saw him run out of steam across country and stop. This year he has stopped at Luhmuhlen CCI and at Gatcombe – on both occasions he was in the lead.
Meanwhile, Pippa admitted to feeling the pressure. “It’s been the most difficult week of my career,” she said, referring to her decision to withdraw her planned second ride Cornerman. “He just wasn’t one hundred per cent and this game is all about the horses; they have to come first.”
Having also had to withdraw her Badminton and European champion Supreme Rock, her best shot is now Denise Lincoln and Metier Consulting’s 10-year-old Primmore’s Pride, the horse that gave her the first leg of the Grand Slam, at Kentucky in April. She had an unusually nervous, error-filled dressage performance on her second ride, Nick and Barbara Walkinshaw’s Walk On Star, who will be seconded to defending the British colours at the forthcoming European Championships.
“Only if something goes wrong with the first horse will I run him here,” she said. “Once the Europeans would have been everything to me, but I have never had the chance to win so much money before and I have to look to that as well.”
Both Bettina and Pippa will need to be less conservative than usual in tomorrow’s cross-country phase – Primmore’s Pride has a tendency to hover in the air over his fences and Bettina has been having help from a sport psychologist to spur her on – as they have Zara Phillips and Andrew Nicholson breathing down their necks.
Zara, making her Burghley debut at the age of 22, is rising above the inevitable media attention, although she did not have anything original to say at the press conference. However, if she lets her usual style of determined riding do the talking, she should be up at the head of affairs at the end of the day because Toytown, on whom she was fifth at Luhmuhlen on her senior debut, is a great cross-country horse.
Andrew Nicholson, fourth on Nicky Salmon’s Lord Killinghurst, is also unlikely to give any quarter. The horse’s two-year lay-off, since he pulled up lame at Kentucky in 2001, seems to have done him good and he looks every inch a winner.
Stephen Bradley, the 1993 winner, is paying his first visit to Burghley in eight years. He lies in fifth place, the best of the four Americans in the top 10, on the Russian-bred ex-racehorse From, having been working hard on his dressage. “I was in the fifties at Kentucky and, as my owner, Maria Land, has paid for him to come over here, I was determined not to be in the fifties again.”
One particularly nice result is Karen Dixon’s 12th place with Too Smart who, at 17, is the joint oldest horse here (with Park Preview). Too Smart was third here in 1994 as an eight-year-old and second in 1999, so it would be lovely to see him enjoy a successful swansong.
In a humid atmosphere, there were a number of lacklustre and disappointing tests. Mary King fluffed her flying changes on King Solomon and Leslie Law’s Shear H20 looked dead to the leg. Andrew Hoy is also well down the order on both horses and blamed himself for having Mr Pracatan on too tight a rein.
But Burghley is never a dressage contest and, though Wolfgang Feld’s course may be a little kinder in its lines than last year, it is still huge.
Full results from www.burghley-horse.co.uk.
Results after dressage: 1, Bettina Hoy (Woodsides Ashby, GER), 36; 2, Pippa Funnell (Primmore’s Pride) 39.4; 3, Zara Phillips (Toytown) 41.8; 4, Andrew Nicholson (Lord Killinghurst, NZL) 42.4; 5, Stephen Bradley (From, USA) 43; 6, Paul Tapner (Highpoint, AUS) 43; 7, Cindy Rawson (Ashdale David’s Way, USA), 44.4; 8, Pippa Funnell (Walk On Star) 46.8; 9eq, Heidi White (Northern Star, USA) & John Williams (Carrick, USA), 49; 11, Primitive Control (Caroline Pratt) 50.4; 12, Too Smart (Karen Dixon) 50.6.