Two of the most successful riders in eventing history — British star William Fox-Pitt and German master Michael Jung — will lead the way into Saturday’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials cross-country action.
The pair could not be separated after dressage reached its conclusion on Friday, with Fox-Pitt and Fernhill Pimms matching Jung and Fischerrocana FST on 34.2 penalties to set up a thrilling weekend’s action. The German rider is also equal seventh aboard La Biostethique Sam, along with countryman Niklas Bschorer and Tom Tom Go 3.
Australian Sam Griffiths and the ultra-consistent Happy Times lie third on 36.8, with Andrew Hoy and Rutherglen fourth, while 2009 Burghley champion Oliver Townend is equal-fifth aboard Armada with current top New Zealand challenger Tim Price, riding Ringwood Sky Boy.
Nine combinations posted dressage scores of under 40, which is believed to be unprecedented in Burghley’s long history, but there are likely to be significant leaderboard changes after a cross-country examination that Townend describes as “the toughest Burghley I’ve seen.”
Former world-number-one Fox-Pitt, who has won 14 four-star crowns during his stellar career, delivered a serene dressage test on his four-star debutant, and was understandably delighted afterwards.
“Fernhill Pimms is very able in the dressage — he has done some fantastic dressage tests during his career,” said Fox-Pitt, who is chasing a seventh Burghley title this year.
“I certainly hoped he would do well, and I am very excited that he did a test like that in this kind of company.
“Saturday is a big day. He might be up for it and be brilliant, or he might be green. It is nearly a championship course.
“The questions are there in front of you, so it is about getting into a good rhythm, reading your horse and reading how he is feeling. It’s a long way round.”
Townend and the brilliant cross-country exponent Armada would appear to be in a very strong position, given their dressage score of 38.7, and the Yorkshireman has two other rides in Dromgurrihy Blue and Samuel Thomas II.
“Everyone knows that Armada is a very good cross-country horse, touch wood,” Townend said.
“It is the toughest Burghley I’ve seen. Badminton two years ago, with the rain also, was fairly huge, but this is the biggest Burghley in my memory. I am looking forward to it.”
Price, meanwhile, backed Townend’s assessment, adding: “No matter how good a horse you are sitting on, a course like this one on Saturday is so demanding that you need to be good and the horse needs to be on form.
“There is a magical feel when you arrive at Burghley each year — then you walk the course and it gets very serious and very real.”