Two former winners in British top-three after testing Burghley cross-country day

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street have retained their dressage lead at the 2019 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials with a clear jumping round over a hugely influential cross-country track.

The pair stopped the clock 10 seconds over the optimum time in one of the fastest rounds of the day to add four cross-country time penalties to their leading dressage score of 22.8 and taking their two-phase total to 26.8 penalties.

This gives them the narrowest lead of just 0.1 of a penalty over 2019 Badminton winners Piggy French and Vanir Kamira in second on 26.9, who were the only combination to come home inside the time of 11 minutes 16 seconds.

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“I’m buzzed — delighted,” said Pippa. “It’s been quite a test today for a lot of us and it rode every bit as big as it walked. I wouldn’t say it was the prettiest round, MGH Grafton Street had to work hard and he came up with the goods and I had to work hard too.”

She added that coming to Burghley off the back of a successful time at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championships in Luhmühlen last week, where she helped the British side to team silver, “helped enormously”.

“We know in all sports that it is about confidence. Yes, two years ago I wasn’t confident. I had some bad falls, I was riding in pain, mentally my head wasn’t in a good place,” said Pippa.

“Those moments where you have to make those split-second decisions, when your confidence is up, you are just that little bit braver and it does help. For sure, coming off the back of a really great week last week where we had a good result as a team but also personally with Majas Hope who got the job done from a cross-country point of view, it certainly helped coming to here.”

The 2003 Burghley winner added the course was a “whopper” but there were “no tricks”.

“You had to stay focused, brave and committed. Any corrections you had to make with your horse, you had to make travelling forwards,” said Pippa.

“I still think it was a fair course for the horses, but it jumped every bit as big as it walked.”

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Piggy said she was “delighted” to be inside the time.

“I’m pretty excited and relieved,” she said.“When I’m clear with her, I’m almost always that little bit over [the time] and I know she can do it. She feels great — her great — she always goes with her head low and I’m sat right back, but I know her and trust her now. It never feels particularly classically ‘correct’, but she’s getting the job done, she’s believing and getting her legs out of the way and that’s what cross-country riding is about.”

In the press conference, Piggy added the white oxers rode “as big as they walked”.

“I thought it was an enormous course when I walked it,” said Piggy, adding she thought the double of gates were “hideous” when she first saw them.

“That was personal reasons as [the gates] wasn’t the sort of fence that would suit my horse. But you do have faith in this man here [Captain Mark Phillips] who has built so many brilliant courses over the years that actually, we thought then that they are there to be ridden and there to be attacked and the horses are going to read them.”

Piggy added her horse’s past experience over Burghley courses was an advantage.

“She’s a real trier and a real blood mare and runs on to the finish, which is [the quality] of a Burghley horse and what you need,” she said.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, winners here in 2017, complete the world-class top three. The combination produced the second-fastest time of the day, coming home five seconds over the optimum time to take forward a score of 27.3 into the showjumping.

“We know what he is capable now, I’m not going into the unknown anymore,” said Oliver, who started by congratulating Piggy and Pippa on their rounds.

“He came here in 2017 as a novice and has answered a lot of questions. We know he gets the trip, we know he jumps the fences, it’s just a case of me giving him as smooth a ride as possible. So it is more pressure for me to make sure that I do give him a nice ride at every fence. That’s probably where the five seconds [over the time came from] as I was just trying to coax him and look after him all the way and give him as level a trip as possible.

“I thought he jumped fantastically today, I was happy with the ride I gave him and I was happy with the way he felt from start to finish. It’s probably the nicest round I’ve had on him at Burghley.

“He just feels like he is getting better and better. To have a horse of this calibre in the yard is an absolute privilege. He’s very special and feels like he is made for Burghley.”

He added the course was tough, but there was “no trickery out there”.

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Just over half of the 64 starters completed Captain Mark Phillips’ testing track. A total of 33 made it back through the finishing flags. Of these, 23 added no jumping penalties to their score.

The white oxers at fence 13 (Joules at the Maltings) were a question too far on the day for several combinations, including US rider Doug Payne (Vandiver), Hazel Towers (Simply Clover) and Australia’s Isabel English (Ferndale Mouse).

There were also a number of fallers at the upright white gates at fence 16 (Land Rover at the Lake), including third after dressage Izzy Taylor, who was unseated at the second of the two obstacles.

Faults were otherwise spread across the 27 fences and the course builders were kept especially busy with replacing frangible devices. Six riders came home with 11 penalties added to their scores and the devices were activated by a number of others who did not complete.

Last year’s winners, Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy were the final combination out on course and were unlucky to trip in the water at the Lion Bridge, tipping Tim out of the saddle within sight of home. Tim is currently in seventh on the first of his three rides, Bango, while lunchtime leader Ludwig Svennerstal from Sweden is in fourth with Stinger.

There are seven British riders in the top-10. Sarah Bullimore (Reve Du Rouet) briefly had 15 penalties added to their score under the FEI “flag rule”, which was then removed by the ground jury to leave them in fifth ahead of the showjumping. Gemma Tattersall, who fell from Arctic Soul at the Maltings, produced a cracking clear round with Santiago Bay to rise to sixth. Imogen Murray and her consistent campaigner Ivar Gooden had one of the biggest leaps up the leaderboard, from 60th after dressage to eighth, while Becky Woolven (DHI Babette K) has risen 20 places from 30th to 10th.

The final horse inspection will start at 9am in the main arena tomorrow (Sunday) and the showjumping, which runs in reverse order, will get underway at 10.30am for the lower placings. The session for the top 25 combinations will start at 2.30pm.

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