Mark Phillips: ‘There’s a new positive energy at Burghley’


  • The British autumn five-star sets the standard, says Mark Phillips

    I first rode at Burghley in 1963, on the Beaufort team in the Pony Club horse trials championships. Slightly irritatingly, we were beaten by the West Norfolk!

    I returned in 1966 to watch the World Championships and rode Rock On to be fourth in 1967, while my team-mate Jane Holderness-Roddam (née Bullen) won team gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Such is the inspiration of Burghley.

    For the first time since I started designing the Burghley Horse Trials course in 1989, there is a new air of enthusiasm and friendliness, under Martyn Johnson in his second year as director and with Tim Henson in his first as chairman.

    Most importantly, they have the support of the estate, the like of which I have not seen for a generation. How wonderful it would be if the World Championships could come back to this energetic new team in 2026, after 60 years.

    Derek di Grazia, who took over from me as cross-country course-designer last year, had a much better feel for the ground this time to produce a big but fair track. On perfect footing, just under half the field had clear jumping rounds – the five-star level is not for everyone, no matter what your qualifications. The other five-stars should aspire to the example set by Burghley.

    Some great horses were left legless at Aachen CCI4*-S in July because the time was so tight, and at the eventing Europeans in Haras du Pin, tired horses struggling home left an unpalatable taste. It was good at Burghley to see so many more happy horses finishing.

    Early on, David Doel and Wills Oakden made the course and time look ridiculously easy. Hopefully they will be inspired to work harder on their dressage, for surely they would be a shoo-in for any team.

    Tim Price took eventing dressage to a new level with Vitali and Pippa Funnell showed all her evergreen class across the country on Majas Hope.

    Not everyone had a good day. Tom McEwen started the year with two of the world’s top horses, but how fickle are the fortunes of sport, with a fall from JL Dublin at the Europeans and injuries to Toledo De Kerser and Luna Mist here, which may rule both horses out of contention for Paris next year.

    Harry Meade jumped the wrong side of a flag coming out of Capability’s Cutting on Away Cruising, Cavalier Crystal went well and then Tenareze pulled up lame. Oliver Townend too had a mixed time, breaking a rein with Tregilder and landing in the oxer at the Dairy Mound on Swallow Springs before the evergreen Ballaghmor Class saved the day.

    With Ballaghmor Class and Vitali not having the best showjumping records, we were guaranteed a nail-biter. Many feared the last fence fault would deny Oliver another win, but Tim’s three down gave Oliver a fairy-tale victory. The £110,000 of prize money will be some consolation for being left off the team and missing out on a European gold medal.

    Asked if Ballaghmor Class would now retire after his 10th top-five five-star finish, his answer was simply, “Paris next!”

    Must do better

    After the celebrations of European team gold and individual gold and silver, Chris Bartle and Dickie Waygood and the selectors will look hard in the mirror. Only two of our six riders jumped clear across country. Next year at the Paris Olympics, with three to a team and all to count, three clear cross-country rounds are essential.

    I have a problem with the fact I’m told the FEI think they ran a successful championship. Pierre le Goupil, also the designer for Paris, is undoubtedly an exceptionally talented designer. But the course was too strong for a European Championship and he did not have a good enough back-up team to help him with his first championship effort.

    We all know from the worlds in 2014 how tiring soft ground is in Haras du Pin. The course was shortened by two minutes, but they should have done more and earlier in the week if we are to preserve this special sport.

    ● Who impressed you at Burghley? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 7 September, 2023

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