Mark Phillips: A £10,000 lapse of concentration at Burghley *H&H VIP*

  • Every Burghley is a momentous event in my life. After weeks of agonising and tinkering, finally the riders walk the cross-country course.

    Every year I’m keen to find out what they think. I was not so pleased when the feedback was “the biggest four-star ever” and “the first ever five-star”. My hair was already turning more grey.

    Nature was on our side — the footing was just about perfect and the sunny intervals were ideal for cross-country. Judgement of pace was going to be paramount with the course running the other way round to previously. This put the Lion Bridge in the first minute and the Anniversary Splash and Capability’s Cutting in the second, before the climb to the Cottesmore Leap at 3min 30sec.

    I thought if riders were 10-15sec down on the clock at the high point of the course, the Cottesmore Leap, they could get it back before the end. In fact it didn’t work like that and they really struggled to recoup the time, even on horses who were not tiring.

    I think we are set to keep following this route for a year or two now. Next year riders will know a lot more and be much closer to the time when they get up to the Cottesmore Leap.

    Only Christopher Burton and Jonelle Price made the time, with Jonelle and Classic Moet making it look ridiculously easy. Michael Jung was only a couple of seconds over, mainly thanks to trotting into the water at the Lion Bridge after his speedier approach and ducking on FischerRocana FST.

    I owe a big thank you to Oliver Townend, who was riding back at his best and set the tone for the day as the pathfinder on Dromgurrihy Blue and made it all look very simple. I did feel sorry for Oliver on his third ride Armada, who was truly cruising under the time when he had a very unlucky glance-off in the Trout Hatchery.

    The other bad luck story was William Fox-Pitt with Fernhill Pimms, who had an expensive moment in forgetting a fence after being held and having to gallop back. I’m sure he’s worked out it was a £10,000 lapse of concentration.

    On a brighter note, I was thrilled that of the 68 starters, 55 finished and 42 of them were clear. That is a remarkable statistic for a track of this magnitude and a great credit to how the competitors rode. It probably also had something to do with the respect they had for the course. Add in the fact that there were no serious horse or rider injuries and the sport had a truly good day.

    A joy to watch

    I was pleased to see Michael Jung win on La Biosthetique-Sam FBW. Sam may be 15-years-old but he is still a joy to watch in Michael’s hands. He’s won Olympic, world and European titles and been second at Badminton — how good that he can now add Burghley to his roll of honour. It’s not easy to win here on your first visit because of the terrain.

    The fact that Michael’s preparation was riding in the five-star showjumping grand prix at Glock’s in Austria last weekend makes his achievement all the more remarkable, and speaks volumes for Michael’s talents. His Blair ride, FischerTakinou, spent the week training and relaxing at Burghley and Michael said it was perfect preparation for the horse — a scary prospect for his rivals!

    Tim and Jonelle Price continue their amazing year. It was sad that Jonelle had an uncharacteristic rail with Classic Moet to allow Christopher Burton in to spoil their party of both being in the top three. But what a weekend Christopher had to finish third and fourth.

    ‘Fit to compete’

    The atmosphere that event director Liz Inman and her team create at Burghley is unique and gets better every year.

    This time I also thought ground jury president Nick Burton and members Andrew Bennie and Christina Klingspor did a good job. They can never please everyone with their dressage marks, but I liked their attitude of looking for horses who were “fit to compete” at the trot-ups. Too often those nerve-racking moments feel more like a pre-purchase examination. A little latitude was like a breath of fresh air at Burghley.

    As everyone left Burghley the attention swung to the European Championships at Blair this week. With Ingrid Klimke winning the FEI Classics series and Michael second, the thought of world champion Sandra Auffarth joining the team poses a daunting proposition. William Fox-Pitt, Nicola Wilson, Pippa Funnell and company can only do their bit and hope the cards fall kindly.

    Spare a thought, too, for France, Belgium, Italy and Sweden all vying for two Olympic tickets at Blair. Denmark, Spain, Poland, Russia and Switzerland also field teams and are not qualified for Rio, but the real competition is likely to be among those four leading nations.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 September 2015