Two Brits in the top three as Burghley debutante holds overnight lead

  • Burghley debutante Eliza Stoddart holds the overnight lead as British riders fill two of the top three places after the first day of dressage (Thursday, 5 September).

    Eliza and Priorspark Opposition Free stormed into the lead at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials before the lunch break with a mark of 28.7 and could not be caught in the afternoon session.

    Sarah Bullimore and her experienced campaigner Reve Du Rouet came close, producing a smart test to tie on Tim Price and Bango’s score of 29.6 to rest in joint second overnight.

    “He always has been a good horse, it has just been about finding the right way to manage him. I think finally, we have cracked it,” said Sarah, adding she was frustrated to leave “a lot more marks in the arena” but was “chuffed” with the horse and their position on the leaderboard.

    “He is an old pro and was in a really good frame of mind. It’s not really excitable with him, it’s that he has a panic and a worry. He can look really relaxed and happy on the outside, but there’s inner turmoil going on. In the past — it is in the past now — it just became too much. Essentially he is quite a lazy horse and doesn’t find the dressage desperately exciting, but he was fabulous today.”

    Watch riders reflect on the first phase: video takes a moment to load

    Eliza, who trains with Amy Woodhead and Chris Bartle, added it is her “childhood dream” to be riding at Burghley.

    “This is my local event, I live 20 minutes down the road and used to come here when I was about six and do the Pony Club hunter trials,” she said. “I’d sit on the edge of the leaf pit with my mates and joke that we were the three musketeers and that we were going to do Burghley one day. It is a bit mental that I’m now sitting here in the press conference after day one, totally not expecting to be here tomorrow or after cross-country day, but it is quite overwhelming.

    “He is very strong in this phase and I’m fairly confident in this phase as well, so even though to everybody here I’m an outsider, I was really hoping I would be in the top-15 after dressage. But to be in the lead is mind boggling, really cool and super exciting for everyone in my team.”

    The 11-year-old gelding, by Fleetwater Opposition, is owned by his breeder, Anne Staley, and her husband Bruce.

    My owners have given me huge support. They bred the horse and I’ve produced him totally myself,” she said, thanking her “amazing team”.

    “He is very level-headed, yet quite tricky on the ground. He can be a bit of a terror and has got away from some very strong men in hand. I got floored at Blenheim in the trot-up last year — most embarrassing moment ever! One minute I was at my first Blenheim and the next I was in the medical tent being inspected to make sure I was fit to compete. He is a very nice horse to ride, trainable with a good brain.

    “Hopefully everything Amy and I have been working on shone through in his test. We made a couple of mistakes, but to be in the lead with a couple of mistakes is pretty cool.”

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    Last year’s winner Tim Price is in a strong position ahead of the second day of dressage. The New Zealand rider is sitting in the runner-up spot with the Numero Uno Syndicate’s Bango and eighth with Xavier Faer, owned by Tim, Trisha Rickards and Nigella Hall.

    “I’ve been trying for about four years to get Bango going the way he does at home, which is lovely and soft, smooth and easy,” he said. “What tends to happen at events — what has historically happened at Burghley, Badminton and Kentucky — is he gets all fragile, a bit brittle and just changes. There were no tricks to it [today]. I just rode him for a bit longer in the preparation yesterday and today. He went in, relaxed and gave what he could give, so that is really rewarding as a rider. Then the good marks were there, which was fun.”

    Brazilian rider Marcelo Tosi and former racehorse Glenfly, who is by the great National Hunt sire Presenting, will kick-star the second day of dressage at 9.30am on Friday (6 September).

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