German master Michael Jung is off and running — with the potential of more to come on Friday — in his quest for a first British four-star title at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Jung, the reigning Olympic champion, wasted no time making an impression as the showpiece Lincolnshire event got under way on Thursday.
Riding Fischerrocana FST, Jung had a dressage score of 34.2 penalties, which left him well clear of the field after half of a 74-strong entry had completed their tests on day one.
With his London 2012 gold medallist La Biosthetique Sam waiting to take centre-stage on Friday, Jung could hardly have made a more purposeful start.
“I am very happy with that,” he said.”My horse was very quiet and concentrated.
“You try every time when you go into the main arena to get the best dressage score, but with horses, it is not always the same. I am very happy when it works.”
Leading the chasing pack is twice Burghley winner Andrew Hoy, whose 37.8 score on Rutherglen left him well-placed overnight, while Jung’s countryman Niklas Bschorer followed up a strong dressage performance at Badminton earlier this year to hold third spot on Tom Tom Go 3.
And there was a fine four-star debut for 29-year-old Rosalind Canter, the Lincolnshire-based rider who emerged as leading British contender on day one, following a score of 40.2 aboard Allstar B.
“I am over the moon,” she said. “I was nervous as I went in, but my horse is so steady and trustworthy in the dressage and a good horse to have for your first four-star.”
A trio of Australian riders are bunched just behind Canter, with Christopher Burton and Haruzac fifth, while Sam Griffiths (Paulank Brockagh) and Paul Tapner (Vanir Kamira) share sixth spot, just ahead of Pippa Funnell and Redesigned.
Reflecting on her dressage performance, Funnell said: “I am really pleased, although maybe a tad disappointed that the score wasn’t better.
“He is not an easy horse, but he loves the cross-country. He is so chilled and relaxed at home, and then suddenly he can turn the switch and he turns into a raging monster!”
Attention will soon switch to Captain Mark Phillips’ cross-country course, with riders seemingly united in believing it is one of the toughest tests ever presented at Burghley.
“It is certainly one of the biggest courses that I’ve seen for a long time,” Funnell noted. “It’s uphill all the way, although all the questions are very fair and straight in front of the horses.”
Competition for Burghley’s £63,000 first prize looks set to crank up a gear on Friday, with a host of top pairs launching potential title challenges.
Among the starters are a highly-fancied combination of Mark Todd and Leonidas II — Todd is bidding for his first Burghley win since 1999, when he triumphed on Diamond Hall Red — together with Oliver Townend and Armada, William Fox-Pitt and Fernhill Pimms, Jonelle Price and Classic Moet, and Nicola Wilson with Annie Clover, in addition to the genial Jung.
Michael Jung and Fischerrocana on the first day of the Burghley Horse Trials, by Nixon Photography, courtesy of Burghley Horse Trials