British Eventing star William Fox-Pitt has plenty to look forward to as he lines out at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials this week. Already heading up the HSBC FEI Classics™ leaderboard in this inaugural season of the 4-Star series which links the five most prestigious Eventing fixtures on the international calendar, the 39-year old rider is returning to familiar territory and is armed with two talented, tried and tested campaigners.
His record at the South Lincolnshire venue includes four victories, and he will be defending the title won with Parkmore Ed 12 months ago. This time around however he brings his 2005 Burghley champion Ballincoola and his 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games team silver medal winning ride Tamarillo – both of whom were giving out all the right signals when finishing fourth and fifth respectively at Barbury Castle in July.
However William will have to be on top form to see off the attentions of the plethora of stars who will descend on this charming part of the English countryside this week, including America's Philip Dutton who is stalking him in second place on the HSBC FEI Classics™ leaderboard. Australia's Andrew Hoy and Moonfleet will be wanting to wipe out the memory of their dramatic early exit on the cross-country course at Badminton in May, while Belgium's Karin Donckers, who finished an impressive ninth at the recent Olympic Games in Hong Kong, comes double-handed with Rose's Merlin and SS Jett. New Zealand is strongly represented by Andrew Nicholson, Joe Meyer and Dan Jocelyn amongst others but Philip Dutton has travelled all the way from Pennsylvania, USA and will want to make that trip worthwhile when lining out with Woodburn who slotted into tenth place behind his winning ride, Connaught, at the HSBC FEI Classics™ season-opener in Kentucky in April. And further success this week would also be an added bonus for the Austrialian-born rider whose 45th birthday falls just a week after Burghley concludes.
The biggest challenge to both Fox-Pitt and Dutton is likely to come from the home runners who are a formidable bunch by any measure. World Champion, Zara Philips, lines out with Ardfield Magic Star and Glenbuck while European silver medallist and Fox-Pitt's Olympic bronze medal winning team-mate Mary King can never be over-looked and is likely to make an impact with Imperial Cavalier. One of the strongest threats however may come from Lucy Wiegersma who, like Zara Philips, lost out on Olympic selection through an injury to her horse Shabraak earlier this summer. But the 14 year old chestnut gelding, who finished a close second to Frenchman Nicolas Touzaint's Hildago de l'Ile at the second leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™ series at Badminton in May, has bounced back and the partnership is likely to give a good account of themselves now that they are rearing to go again. Lying third on the series leaderboard, they could rocket into contention for the US$150,000 winner’s purse if things go their way this week.
The event will kick off on a perfect note when Olympic individual bronze medallists, Tina Cook and Miners Frolic, perform the "guinea-pig" Dressage test on Thursday morning and this will be just the right season-sign-off for the 10-year old gelding who will then be turned out for a well-earned rest. This partnership may well return in later years to claim the golden Burghley prize.
It was back in 1961 that the Marquess of Exeter invited the British Horse Society to run an event on his estate - Anneli Drummond-Hay and Merely a Monarch were the victors on that occasion - and the following year Burghley staged the FEI European Championship. In total, the venue has hosted a record ten championship events including two World Championships which were held in 1966 and 1974, while just six course designers have influenced the track during the 47 years of its existence. Bill Thomson laid the foundations and set the standard over the 22-year period from 1961 to 1983 and then Philip Herbert took over the reins from 1984 to 1988. Capt Mark Philips first made his mark in 1989, and again in 1996 and 1998 while Mike Tucker was at the helm in 1997 and 2001. Wolfgang Feld was in charge of course-design operations between 2002 and 2005 but since 2005 Capt Philips has had it all to himself once more, and his 2008 track presents another intriguing test with 45 jumping efforts and plenty of questions.
Two riders share the record for most wins over this most challenging of courses - Britain's Ginny Elliott and New Zealand's Mark Todd. Elliott's first win in 1983 was with the aptly-named Priceless and for four years she proved unbeatable on this hallowed turf. She returned in 1984 to top the line-up with Night Cap, and then Priceless set a so-far-unbeaten record when becoming the only horse to win this tough event a second time in 1985. In 1986 she headed the field with Murphy Himself and the last of her five victories came three years later with Master Craftsman.
Todd's first win was with Wilton Fair in 1987, and he then scored a back-to-back Burghley double in 1990 and 1991 with Face the Music and Welton Greylag. In 1997 he won the European Open with Broadcast News and the last of his five successes was recorded with Diamond Hall Red in 1999. Todd, and fellow-Kiwi Blyth Tait who won here with Chesterfield in 1998 and Ready Teddy in 2001, have the distinction of being the only two riders to have placed first and second in the event - in 1987 and 1998 respectively.
However the rider who knows this place best of all must be Lorna Clarke who completed the Burghley fixture on 16 separate occasions over the 22 year period between 1967 and 1989 - quite an achievement!
Burghley House is described as the largest and grandest house of the first Elizabethan Age. Built between 1555 and 1587 for Sir William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, its gracious grounds were laid out by the legendary landscape gardener Capability Brown. The sixth Marquess of Exeter, Lady Victoria Leatham, a well-known antiques expert and popular TV personality, ran the house for the family Trust between 1982 and 2007. Her daughter, Mrs Miranda Rock, has now succeeded her and the world-class event staged at this spectacular venue continues to grow in stature and popularity with every passing year.
Another chapter in Burghley's long history began on Wednesday when the horses assembled for the first veterinary inspection. Dressage followed on Thursday and Friday while Saturday's thrilling cross-country phase is bound to draw yet another enormous crowd. After show jumping on Sunday the 2008 Burghley winner will be crowned and Fox-Pitt, who moved into pole position in the HSBC FEI Classics™ rankings following his victory at the third leg in Luhmuehlen in June, will be hoping that he will be holding the trophy aloft for the second year running after this penultimate leg of the series which concludes at Pau in France in October. If that happens then his position on the leaderboard may be unassailable...
STANDINGS AFTER THREE LEGS OF THE HSBC FEI CLASSICS (KENTUCKY, BADMINTON & LUHMUHLEN): 1. William Fox Pitt (GBR) – 25 points (Differential Score – 51.00); 2. Phillip Dutton (USA) – 15 points (DS – 41.70); 3. Nicolas Touzaint (FRA) – 15 points (DS – 48.70); 4. Rebecca Holder (USA) – 12 points (DS – 47.30); 5. Lucy Weigersma (GBR) – 12 points (DS – 49.80); 6. Frank Ostholt (GER) – 12 points (DS – 51.40); 7. Stuart Tinney (AUS) – 10 points (DS – 52.20); 8. Missy Ransehousen (USA) – 10 points (DS – 57.30); 9. Caroline Powell (NZL) – 8 points (DS – 52.80); 10.Stephen Bradley (USA) – 8 points (DS – 57.50).
The HSBC FEI CLASSICS is a new FEI series linking the five 4-Star Eventing competitions currently on the international calendar.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS 2008:
1, Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event (USA) 24-27 April; 2, Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR) 1-4 May; 3, Luhmuhlen CCI**** presented by EON (Ger) 12-15 June; 4, Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR) 4-7 September; 5, FINAL - Les Etoiles de Pau (FRA) 22-26 October.
Points will be awarded to the top ten riders at each event as follows:
1st: 15 points
2nd: 12 points
3rd: 10 points
4th: 8 points
5th: 6 points
6th: 5 points
7th: 4 points
8th: 3 points
9th: 2 points
10th: 1 point
Riders can only win points with their best horse/performance at one event and if the combination has obtained a qualifying result. Only the top ten riders will score points.
Tie-Break: In case of equality of ranking points, the best-placed rider is the competitor with the lowest total of penalty points at the specific event (=differentiating score).
HSBC will contribute US$1million to the series over the next three years. At the end of each season, the five riders with the greatest number of points will be awarded PRIZE-MONEY as follows:
Series Champion - US$ 150,000; 2nd - US$ 75,000; 3rd - US$ 50,000; 4th - US$ 33,333; 5th - US$ 25,000.
This represents the biggest prize pot on offer in the sport of eventing on an annual basis.
For further information on the fourth leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™ check out website www.burghley-horse.co.uk