It was a day of ups and downs at the Land Rover. Burghley Horse Trials, not least for world-number-one Michael Jung.
As anticipated, he does sit at the top of the leaderboard, albeit with his Olympic-medal partner Sam rather than his dressage leader Fischerrocana, who rather surprisingly gained a big E when she stumbled and fell into the water at the Lion Bridge, having jumped just the first three fences.
New Zealand husband and wife team, Tim and Jonelle Price, sit in second and third after producing two of the faster rounds of the day, and Australian Christopher Burton is in fourth and fifth, with fellow countryman Bill Levett in sixth.
Shropshire-based Oliver Townend, the highest placed British rider in ninth, set the standard with a confident trailblazing round on Drumgurrihy Blue, who, despite not being built for speed, came home clear with just 5.6 time penalties.
It was a cheering performance from the former winner, as many anticipated getting anywhere near the time would be difficult, due to the change in the direction of the course, which meant an early uphill climb to the Cottesmore Leap rather than the freewheel down Winners Avenue, as has been the case for many years.
After Burton and his first ride Haruzac also gained just a handful of penalties, despite trailing tape from a hind boot all the way round, there was huge anticipation for overnight leader Michael Jung. His first ride round Burghley however lasted just 40 seconds before Jung was floundering in the Lake. He was the only casualty of the day here.
“It was a stupid mistake,” said the German and with good humour adding, “After the fall, my brother said to me, come on now you have to start fighting as you have already gone up a place and are now in sixth place on Sam.”
And fight back he did, with a great performance and masterclass of riding on veteran partner Sam, who gave his all, especially in the second half of the course, to come home just three seconds over the time, shooting them up five places. He could even have gone inside the clear but for a rather understandable more cautious approach into the Lake at Lion Bridge.
“Sam is really assured and confident. I know him really well and we have much experience together,” said Jung. “I was a bit slow at the beginning and when I began to try to make up the time he just fought all the way”.
Jung’s path to the top was made easier after a huge mistake by six time former Burghley winner William Fox-Pitt. The British favourite, who was in equal first overnight, was going well with Fernhill Pimms when he was held for a considerable time, initially due to a fence repair and then to let the following rider through. Once re-started, William then decided to take the long route at the Land Rover Discovery Valley but, in doing so, forgot one fence and had to double back to rectify his error, thus accruing a great many time faults.
“I just had a mental blank and I am very sorry to have let the horse down in such a way,” said Fox-Pitt, who is now well out of contention in 13th place.
Tim Price’s route to the top was not also without its challenges, not least with a lucky route through the Trout Hatchery after Ringwood Sky Boy hit the first element and lurched over three fences. Then, towards the end of the course, the New Zealander felt several sharp stabs on his chest. It transpired he had a wasp down his shirt.
“To be honest it didn’t affect my cross country. Sky Boy has a long stride and struggles with the more difficult fences but fortunately he is also very honest and has a lot of scope.”
Wife Jonelle and Tricia Rickard’s little mare, Classic Moët, reproduced the fast and clear form they showed at last year’s WEG and again came home clear well inside the time.
” She is a fast one and I have to keep up with her,” said Price, who is the world number three. “I was not sure how it was going to ride but I was pleasantly surprised and the mare was faultless.”
Burton and TS Jamaimo, who, like Haruzac, is a thoroughbred, also produced a flawless clear and came home with two seconds to spare.
It all came down to the final rider Oli Townend and his veteran partner Armada, who were in with a chance of going ahead of Jung and Sam.
His opportunity for another Burghley win disappeared, however, with a run-out at the island fence in the middle of the Trout Hatchery and Townend came home understandably annoyed with himself and also upset.
Just 1.5 penalties separates the the top two for tomorrow’s showjumping and final phase although Sam has the better record over coloured poles. It is therefore still quite possible that the winner will also be the best first timer.