Chris Burton looks set to end a 10-year wait for an Australian winner of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials after taking total charge following a punishing cross-country day.
Not one of the 68 starters finished inside the optimum time of 11 minutes, 11 seconds for the Mark Phillips-designed course, although Burton and Nobilis 18 collected just 3.2 time penalties to move into Sunday’s showjumping finale on a score of 33.4 penalties.
They are a massive 11.5 penalties clear of the field, with Tim Price (Ringwood Sky Boy) and his fellow New Zealander Andrew Nicholson (Nereo) lying second and third, respectively.
Price’s wife Jonelle is fourth aboard Classic Moet – they got closest to the time, with just 1.6 time penalties – with first-day leader Bettina Hoy fifth on Designer 10. The leading British challenger is Oliver Townend, who lies 10th on Samuel Thomas II, but his highest-placed ride after dressage — MHS King Joules — was retired during cross-country.
Experience paid on a day when an enormous, energy-sapping course took its toll and the rain fell almost relentlessly, and there were just 28 clear jumping rounds from 68 starters.
Burton, who looks set to become the first Australian champion at Burghley since Lucinda Fredericks in 2006, said: “I was nervous today and watching the early riders go certainly didn’t make me feel any better. So I went back to my truck and curled up for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to get on.
“He (Nobilis 18) originally came from (German Olympian) Dirk Schrade. When I went to try him, I asked Dirk how much blood he had in him, and he told me he had more than anything I’d ever sat on before.”
The current leaderboard is dominated by Antipodeans, with no less than seven of the top 10 hailing from the southern hemisphere.
Tim Price added: “It was unfortunate that a lot of the top riders came in the second half of the day, so we never really got a true picture of how the course was riding until later on. I was very pleased with Sky Boy. I know him inside out, he grew a leg when he needed to and freshened up towards the end of the course.”
Burghley regular Nicholson may have left himself too much to do on Sunday to secure a sixth Burghley title, but he was delighted with Nereo and his round that left him with 12 time penalties and in third spot overnight.
“I didn’t get time faults because of the weather or the ground — I got them because I didn’t go fast enough,” Nicholson said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Nereo. He’s a big, strong horse who has to work hard up and down these hills, but it’s like he can read the numbers on the fences. At the Dairy Farm (fence 14) I wasn’t exactly on the line I wanted, but he spotted the corner and took me straight to it.”
Top of the hard-luck stories, though, was Australia’s Sam Griffiths, who suffered the misfortune of a broken stirrup early on in the course, which forced him to pull up near winners’ avenue, and three horses in close succession fell in the Trout Hatchery after landing over the large log, including Pippa Funnell and Second Supreme, who had been going brilliantly until then.
Mark Phillips said: “Overall, I was disappointed by the number falls, although in some instances the riders weren’t there (in balance) for their horses when they landed, as they had been pitched forward. It was harder work for them than I had anticipated, and the rain didn’t help.”
Image: Burghley Horse Trials by Trevor Meeks, courtesy of the Fei