The British world number one finished comfortably within the 11-minute optimum time over Ian Stark’s cross-country course on Angela Hislop’s 16-year-old, crossing the finishing line in 10min 55sec easing down.
Oliver had to work hard a couple of times when the double Kentucky Three-Day Event winner Cooley Master Class looked hesitant – including jumping over the crab at fence 15ab, the Md Crab Water presented by Mars Sustainability Bay, and at the corner in the ditch at fence 17 – but the horse responded and kept answering the questions.
“You see some galloping machines going round making it look easy, but he’s not the most thoroughbred – that’s why he’s always stayed clear of Burghley,” said Oliver.
“We didn’t anticipate it being this tough here and it shows you what an unbelievable horse he is. He gives me his brain in start box and even if he doesn’t like the look of something, he lets me make him go between the fences. I’m so honoured to ride him, he’s a special one.
Commenting on Ian Stark’s Maryland 5 Star cross-country course, Oliver said: “It’s more than a five-star track with the undulations. It would be a five-star track on the flat, you add the undulations and it sorts the wheat from the chaff.
“You see horses that can go to a Burghley and be competitive and then the ones that are not quite five-star horses. He’s somewhere in between, he’s a top-class trier and unbelievable athlete.”
Oliver was the dressage leader, so none of the competitors still to come can overtake him in the overnight rankings. He stays on his first-phase score of 21.1.
However, New Zealand’s Tim Price will be breathing down his neck as he too has come home inside the time, riding Trisha Rickards, Nigella Hall’s and his own Xavier Faer. This pair were second after dressage and stay on that mark of 24.3, less than one showjump behind Oliver.
“He’s experienced and travels, he knows to land and go, up the hills he knows the feeling so I can encourage him more than a less experienced horse so the overall effect was I found the time fairly easy,” said Tim.
“He’s a fast horse and the way he takes on the fences, he has an abundance of scope that’s there at my disposal, so he’s the perfect horse for the job.”
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