This year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials looks set for a pulsating day of cross-country action as a congested leaderboard prepare to tackle one of world eventing’s toughest courses.
The top 10 combinations after dressage are separated by just 12 penalties, with Bettina Hoy’s first-day lead being wiped out by Australian Chris Burton. Oliver Townend, who won Burghley in 2009, leads the British challenge in fifth place with MHS King Joules.
A delighted Burton, riding Nobilis 18, said: “He’s a beautiful mover, and today he was really relaxed, which meant I could ride forward and attack the movements.
“It’s not easy to feel confident about the (cross-country) course at Burghley, but Nobilis is a blood horse and should cope with the trip.”
Hoy, meanwhile, added: “I always expected ‘Burto’ to go ahead of me today. He rode a beautiful test and the mark was well deserved.”
Five-times Land Rover Burghley winner Andrew Nicholson and Nereo achieved a lifetime-best four-star score of 35.2, which included a flurry of nines towards the end of their test and left them in third place overnight.
“I’m very pleased; that was as good as it could have been,” said Nicholson, who this time last year was recovering from a serious accident that left him undergoing an eight-hour neck operation. “I’ve deliberately not brought him up here (to the arena area) since the trot-up because I trust him to behave and concentrate 100%.”
Riders have labelled Mark Phillips’ cross-country track, which follows a similar route to last year but with new challenges, as a “proper four-star, Burghley track”. Rain is forecast for Saturday afternoon, adding to the challenge.
Nicholson added: “I think Mark Phillips has got the hang of how to make the time impossible. With the early fences coming thick and fast, it becomes hard to make up seconds, and that’s when people make mistakes. I would be surprised if anyone makes the time.
Townend, arguably the most consistent performer on this season’s British circuit, is an outstanding cross-country rider, so he will head into Saturday’s critical phase in confident mood.
Nicholson, though, could take charge ahead of Sunday’s showjumping finale, with Nereo having already finished as Burghley runner-up on two occasions.
“Nereo is a pleasure to ride. He just goes in and gives 100%,” Nicholson said. “It’s great to be back at Burghley — I never doubted it — and I am sure that if I do my bit on Saturday, the horse will do his.”
Christopher Burton and Nobilis 18 lead after the dressage phase at Burghley by Trevor Meeks, courtesy of the FEI