Today was overcast and windless at Burghley, and the usual Friday atmosphere was slow to build, allowing those in the morning session the opportunity to make the most of the circumstances.
Proving the doubters emphatically wrong, Jock Paget presented Clifton Promise in a totally relaxed and through frame, scoring 7s, 8s and 9s, for 38.8, a score which would keep them in the lead going into the cross country.
Karin Donckers rode Lamicell Unique, one of only 4 mares in the field, into overall 9th place at this stage, on 46.3, just a little tension spoiling the chances of a better mark.
Aoife Clark and Vaguely North slotted into 7th on 44.7, but William Fox-Pitt was the only one all day to look like troubling the leaders, breaking the 40 barrier with a 39.5 on Catherine Witt’s lovely Luhmühlen winner Bay My Hero.
Considering the horse’s rather extreme antics during the trot-up, William had him attentive and rideable, really letting the aids through and producing his best work. He lies just 0.7 penalties behind Jock Paget and at the Press Conference he said of Bay My Hero”He’s a great showman and is getting better and better.” William is the only British rider in the top 5 at this stage.
Oliver Townend’s legendary ride Armada was affected by the atmosphere, which by 16.05pm was really building. People were queuing to get into the stands to watch the riders in the very last session. Armada showed tension in the changes which made Oliver rather rueful, but they are in 12th on 48.3, so just under 10 penalties behind the leader.
Georgie Spence was thrilled to finish the day in 11th with what she said was Wii Limbo’s best test at this level which scored 47.7
Last to go Andrew Nicholson and Avebury, unprecedented back-to-back winners of the last 2 Burghleys, performed a composed and balanced test, to lie 4th on 40.5, in effect less than 2 xc seconds behind the leaders.
Light relief throughout the two days was provided by Matt Ryan’s sometimes spectacularly tactless questions to riders as he attempted to interview them after they left the arena. One particular high (low?) point was when he asked a rider whether she plans to come back next year with that horse, and if so, whether she’ll have taught it flying changes by then! He has taken Aussie straight-talking and made it into a comedy turn. The biggest laugh of the afternoon however came when he asked Katherine Hague what she thought was going to happen when she went cross-country tomorrow, to which she replied immediately and slightly faintly “I don’t know.” No smooth glossing over and trotting out of platitudes here!
The going is fantastic, the forecast is good, the course looks AMAZING, there is lots to do out there, “it’s big, it’s bold, it’s Burghley” as one rider said today. If you can possibly get here for tomorrow, you really should – it is going to be an immense day of sport.
At the Press Conference at the end of the day, I asked the riders whether there were particular fences on the course that they were worried about. Jock replied “All of them” and said that the whole course needs to be treated with respect, and William Fox-Pitt particularly mentioned the Discovery Valley fences, “because you never know quite how your horse will jump the ditch there”, and the fences at the Trout Hatchery, because whilst all the elements individually are fair, spaced close together as they are they make a more difficult question, and so a trip through there could look very easy or rather messy.
As a side-note, the Burghley Shopping is the best I have ever known (and I’m a veteran here who has been coming since I was a kid!) There are the usual faces and places, some totally new ones, a breathtaking range of ‘you name it, we’ve got it’ is available. Brilliant Burghley is in full swing, get here if you can!
The overnight scoreboard is HERE.