Will the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials be a one man, two-horse race this year? There is a distinct possibility that Burghley’s ‘best first timer’ award could go to the event winner. That’s because Germany’s Michael Jung, who is the reigning Olympic and European champion, world-number-one and general super-rider (not to mention international showjumper), is making his much-awaited Burghley debut this year, a week before he defends his European title at Blair Castle.
Jung has to be a front runner for the Land Rover Perpetual Challenge trophy, especially as he brings both La Biosthethique Sam, his 2012 Olympic-gold-medal partner and the mare Fischerrocana FST, with whom he won Lexington CCI4* in the spring and individual World silver last year.
While I am sure Jung has assiduously done his homework and watched every video possible in his preparation for the event, Burghley will nonetheless be a new experience for all three, who will never have encountered a track quite like Mark Phillips’ course, which makes full use of the undulations of Burghley Park. It is a fair bet however that he will sit at the top of the leader board — in first and second — at the end of dressage.
It is perhaps not just Burghley that Jung would like to add to his impressive CV as he currently lies second in the FEI Classics series behind his compatriot Ingrid Klimke, who is not entered. Points here will turn into euros as Burghley is the sixth and final leg in the 2014/15 series and the outcome will decide who banks the biggest cheque.
Jung will of course have world-class opposition and much of it with Burghley experience. British favourite (and world-number-two) William Fox-Pitt has the advantage of having ridden round the Park for over 20 years and has a record six wins to his name. It is expected that his more experienced entry, Bay My Hero, will head to Blair, leaving William with four-star debutant Fernhill Pimms to fly his flag, which could be a big ask.
Former winner Oliver Townend, who is having a good year, not only has his four-star veteran Armada but also the choice of Dromgurrihy Blue, who perhaps has the disadvantage of being this year’s Burghley pathfinder, as well as newish ride Samuel Thomas.
Popular Yorkshire lass Nicola Wilson has two very good chances to spring her first Burghley and four-star win with either Annie Clover or One Two Many and former winner Pippa Funnell has three entries (Mirage D’Elle, Redesigned and Second Supreme) and, as she showed at Badminton, is having a bit of a renaissance at the level.
As always, the Antipodeans will provide a strong challenge. Five-times winner Sir Mark Todd, (at 59 the elder statesman of the field) rides Leonidas, with whom he was fourth at Badminton, while fellow New Zealander Tim Price (Ringwood Sky Boy) is always a solid performer, as is his wife Jonelle (The Deputy), and both have good proven Burghley cross-country horses, although perhaps not the best showjumpers.
There are also a handful of good Australians. Sam Griffiths and Paul Tapner are both big-time four-star winners, while Christopher Burton, the newly crowned British Open Champion, could bag another four-star win with TS Jamaimo, with whom he won the Adelaide four-star in 2013. Murray Lamperd and Under the Clocks went well here last year, although they may be a bit rusty, as the pair has been in different continents for most of the year.
Pinning down a winner is not easy but I expect to see Jung, Burton, Fox-Pitt, Wilson Todd, Townend and Tapner in the final reckoning.
However, there will be one significant rider missing from the final line-up this year: Andrew Nicholson who is recuperating from his fall and subsequent operation. The New Zealand veteran, who pulled off the incredible achievement of winning here for the last three years with Avebury, as well as totalling a record 33 completions, has by my reckoning missed just one Burghley (1992) since his debut in 1991. He will be much missed by competitors, spectators and media alike.
Image: Michael Jung (GER), pictured here on La Biosthetique Sam at Luhmühlen CCI 4* in June, will make his Burghley debut this year. Burghley is the sixth and final leg of the FEI Classics™ 2014/2015. Picture courtesy of Eventing Photo/FEI