William Fox-Pitt (GBR) has the slimmest of leads to win a record sixth Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR), second-last leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™, after a thrilling day’s cross-country. The day was a spectacle of bold riding and flying horses, and Fox-Pitt gave an early masterclass on the New Zealand former racehorse Parkland Hawk, winner of the Blenheim CCI3* last year but short on mileage this year.
Fox-Pitt, who said Parklane Hawk felt as if he had “grown wings” when launching into space off the precipitous drop at the Leaf Pit (fence 4), commented: “It’s a good course for a genuine horse. It was massive all the way, but you never expect a holiday at Burghley.”
Fox-Pitt, who warns that Jumping is Parklane Hawk’s weakest phase, cannot afford an error in tomorrow’s Jumping phase, for the cost of a single rail covers the first four horses after Cross-Country. “I’m going to enjoy the moment because anything could happen tomorrow,” he said.
New Zealanders Andrew Nicholson, on Avebury, and last year’s winner Caroline Powell on the foot-perfect veteran Lenamore are second and third, ahead of HSBC FEI Classics™ leader Mary King on her home-bred mare Kings Temptress. Fox-Pitt, Nicholson and King, who have eight Burghley victories between them, have two horses apiece in the top 10. All collected a few time penalties on their second horses, who went around as the temperatures warmed up. Nicholson gave a classic display of committed riding on Avebury, who ran out at the Dairy Mound last year. “He makes it feel easy, but that’s when it tends to go wrong,” Nicholson reveals. “He can be a bit cute, and I’ve learned my lesson with him. He likes it if I ride him as if I’ve stolen him!”
Among the other good news stories was that of Elizabeth Power (IRL), back in action after sustaining head injuries in a fall at Badminton in April. She is lying sixth on Kilpatrick River after accruing 2.4 time penalties and has her goal of Olympic qualification in sight. “I was paranoid about the big white parallel at fence 25 and didn’t see the best stride,” she admitted. “I’m delighted and proud of my horse for digging deep.”
Tom McEwen (GBR), 20, son of FEI First Vice-President John McEwen, had a debut to remember. He found himself among illustrious company in 10th place on Dry Old Party, a horse purchased from Pippa Funnell (GBR). McEwen, the youngest rider in the field of 80, was one of 10 riders to achieve the 11 minute 40, second optimum time, and is now in line to collect the US$1,000 HSBC Training Bursary for the best CCI4* debut. “It was mega,” said McEwen, a member of Britain’s gold medal team at the recent FEI European Eventing Championships for Young Riders. “When I got it wrong, my horse got it right. I’m so proud of him. I owe it all to Alex Franklin and Rodney Powell who train me.”
Boyd Martin (USA) was also emotional after completing a brilliant round on Neville Bardos. The horse, which only cost US$850 off the racetrack, was recently rescued from a fire at Martin’s stables. The pair are lying in 11th place.
Former world champion Zara Phillips (GBR) was quick to praise her father, Mark Phillips, for his Cross-Country track. “I said to Dad ‘good job’. It was great fun to ride,” said Phillips, who is lying 13th after accruing 5.2 time penalties on High Kingdom, the horse that looks likely to bring her back to top level.
Bred in Ireland by William Micklem, Phillips bought High Kingdom as a five-year-old after seeing a picture of him. “He was awesome,” she said. “We’re not used to such big galloping and jumping tracks as this any more, and I think I rode the island fences terribly! But he had plenty of petrol in the tank and answered all my questions.”
Sam Griffiths (AUS), eighth on Happy Times, was first to test Capt Phillips’s “retro” course. “It rode big and tough,” he confirmed. “My horse is very experienced but there’s some big old fences out there. You needed it to go your way to go clear.”
There were 53 clears, but also the inevitable hard luck stories. The Dressage leader, Simone Deitermann (GER), lost a battle with gravity on the rollercoaster slope at Capability’s Cutting (fence 24) and parted company with Free Easy NRW.
The 2009 winner Oliver Townend (GBR) had a day to forget, with a fall from Neo du Breuil at the Dairy Mound (fence 19) and retired Imperial Master after he jibbed and reared up in front of the Leaf Pit.
Christopher Burton (AUS) parted company with Holstein Park Leilani at fence 20 and his compatriot Bill Levett with Political Trump at the Waterloo Logs (12). Michael Pollard (USA) suffered a horse fall with Icarus at the brand new water complex, Anniversary Splash (26).
Francis Whittington (GBR) had an early disappointment when Easy Target missed the narrow brush fence at the Leaf Pit and world silver medallist Hawley Bennett (CAN) and Gin & Juice ran out at the white-railed corner at the HSBC Maltings (14b).
Fiona Hobby (GBR) retired Roma M.L. after a sticky start, Laurence Hunt (GBR), ninth after Dressage, pulled up Pheobus after a stop at the Dairy Mound, and Blyth Tait (NZL), trying to make a comeback after seven years, gave it best after two run-outs on Santos.
Mark Phillips, who pronounced himself “pleased, but also relieved”, has ensured a fascinatingly tight day’s competition tomorrow. Fox-Pitt summed up his work by saying: “It’s great to have a day like this for the sport.”
Follow all the final phase action on www.burghley-horse.co.uk
Results after Cross-Country
1 William Fox-Pitt/Parkland Hawk (GBR) 39.7 + 0 = 39.7
2 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 42.8 0 = 42.8
3 Caroline Powell/Lenamore (NZL) 42.8 + 0 = 42.8
4 Mary King/Kings Temptress (GBR) 42.2 + 1.2 = 43.4
5 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 42.3 + 2.8 = 45.1
6 Elizabeth Power/Kilpatrick River (IRL) 43.3 + 2.4 = 45.7
7 Mary King/Apache Sauce (GBR) 44.8 + 2 = 46.8
8 Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 45.5 + 1.6 = 47.1
9 William Fox-Pitt/Neuf des Couers (GBR) 45.5 + 3.6 = 49.1
10 Tom McEwen/Dry Old Party (GBR) 49.3 + 0 = 49.3
HSBC FEI Classics™ Leaderboard in 2011 (after 3 out of 5 events)
1 Mary King (GBR) 28 points
2 Piggy French (GBR) 20
3 Mark Todd (NZL) 15
4 Andreas Dibowski (GER) 15
5 Sandra Auffarth (GER) 12
6 Clayton Fredericks (AUS) 12
7 Sinead Halpin (USA) 10
8 Frank Ostholt (GER) 10
9 William Fox-Pitt (GBR) 10
10 Oliver Townend (GBR) 9
William Fox Pitt (GBR) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Wiliam_Fox_Pitt_CC.MP3
Andrew Nicholson (NZL) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Andrew_Nicholson_CC.MP3
Caroline Powell (NZL) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Caroline_Powell_CC.MP3
Zara Phillips (GBR) http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Zara_Phillips_CC.MP3
Photo caption: William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Parkland Hawk are in the lead after Cross-Country at the fourth leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™ at Burgley. © Kate Houghton/FEI.