Mark Phillips: Let’s be clear about the real heroes from Burghley [H&H VIP]

  • The FEI’s handling of the Jock Paget affair continues to be shrouded in mystery.

    As the eventing world gathered in Kentucky, rumours circulated that Jock Paget, with Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ), had asked the FEI to adjudicate on whether or not Jock should keep his Burghley title (pictured).

    This created great activity on social media, portraying Jock as the good guy. It also had an unsettling effect on Andrew Nicholson as he prepared for the second leg of a possible Rolex Grand Slam when he kept being asked: “Aren’t you grateful to Jock for giving you the Burghley title?”

    Everybody needs to take one step back here. Jock got caught with a banned substance in his horse. Much as I like and sympathise with Jock, he is not the good guy. Andrew won on merit and within the rules of the sport; he is the one who deserves that label and to be the world number one.

    Having said that, if Jock or ESNZ asked for this costly adjudication in the interests of the sport as the 2014 four-stars loomed, that was laudable.

    My only query is why this action should have come from the New Zealand side and not from within the FEI in the interests of the sport and its long-time sponsor Rolex.

    There was more than one person in Lexington speculating that the FEI’s current association with rival watchmaker Longines had an influence on both the timing of this announcement and the length of time it took to release the information.

    Now we know that we have to wait until 3 June for Jock’s tribunal.

    In the meantime, the showjumping World Cup, sponsored by Longines, has trouble on the horizon. Already some of the biggest shows, such as Calgary and Wellington, are choosing to keep their Rolex sponsorship and opt out of the World Cup or, in Aachen’s case, to run a Nations Cup outside of the Furusiyya league.

    That is a scenario set to spread and Kentucky, the favorite candidate for the 2018 World Equestrian Games [WEG], has already said the Rolex stadium is non-negotiable in its bid.

    Optional fences?

    THIS year’s Kentucky was blessed with great weather, albeit with showers on Friday, which produced perfect footing for cross-country day.

    Almost a third of the field went inside the time, despite the course having maximum efforts and minimum distances and being measured very, very tightly.

    This was not because this was a soft four-star track. It may not have been as big as Burghley, but the angles, bending lines and narrows took the sport into a new era. Course-designer Derek di Grazia had the riders’ attention, even if some of the let-up fences were three-star efforts.

    That, given the terrain, was no bad thing and helped give better pictures on the back end of the course.

    It also added more fuel to what designers have been saying for a while now, which is that at four-star we should have a couple of extra fences which are only included in the course if the conditions are perfect.

    This would ensure we keep the influence of cross-country because while dressage tests have become more difficult, the showjumping bigger and more technical, the cross-country parameters have barely changed — except for the loss of the long format endurance factor.

    The current situation is exasperating when, as in Kentucky and at the WEG test event last season, we had nearly half the field within 10 dressage marks. The competition becomes more and more about the dressage and showjumping.

    Having said that, close scores do make for real entertainment on the last day. William Fox-Pitt’s clear round to win was quite something. Lauren Kieffer, a newcomer to this level, also impressed. She has surely booked herself a ticket to Normandy.

    With good results from Sinead Halpin and Buck Davidson, plus Clark Montgomery, Tiana Coudray and Boyd Martin still to show their form, the USA medal chances in France are getting a considerable boost.

    So last weekend in Kentucky was once again all about William Fox-Pitt, winning his 53rd CCI. Can he now do the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam at Badminton?