The Friday afternoon session was kicked off by William Fox-Pitt and Fernhill Pimms. Theirs was an absolutely beautiful display of harmonious, balanced work, and the slight blip in a change which dropped him to some 4s robbed him of a clear lead, as, after his initial score was amended, he went into equal first with Michael Jung on 34.2.
Our blogger Charlotte Brear, on her 4* debut, had her only horse Manor Missile, who she has produced from scratch, going in what looked like a very settled way. ‘Siren’ is an out-and-out trier, but some of the movements are obviously a lot of work for him at the moment, and his part Shire heritage made him look rather deliberate at times, especially in the canter work.
Louise Harwood presented Whitson in a very secure, uphill way, and was scoring well, but he changed behind in the canter work, and the changes were not all spot on, which dragged his marks down a bit.
The double edged sword of the late Friday afternoon session definitely started to have an effect. While the judges may be a little more generous at this point, at times the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the growing crowds in the stands definitely has an effect. Pippa Funnell’s test on Second Supreme wasn’t quite as good as I had anticipated – he looked pretty tense in front at times, even a bit ‘noddy’, and wasn’t fully expressive, perhaps because of the atmosphere.
Christopher Burton’s test on TS Jamaimo was another I was expecting to be really good, but tension really got to the horse before he went in, and he was not truly working through to the contact. Chris rode very tactfully to glean every possible mark and their mark of 45.0 was good enough for 15th at that point in proceedings.
After the Tea break Michael Jung was the first in, doing possibly the most anticipated test of the competition. His champion La Biosthetique Sam FBW needs no introduction. Perhaps because of the atmosphere, Michael seemed to be rather conservative. The test was very secure and safe, but maybe lacking a tiny bit of ‘brio’. The first change was slightly late behind, the next 3 good but not hugely expressive. The horse was absolutely secure in his frame and never went behind the vertical (unlike some others who have scored highly!) but if anything looked a tiny bit earthbound and flat, albeit very consistent and correct. He scored lots of 7s, 7.5s and 8s but no higher marks, and ended up with 39.2 to go into 5th at that point, and eventual equal 7th place. Surprising.
Paul Tapner with Kilronan was evidently going for it, his medium and extended trots being ambitious and energetic. This horse knows his job and was consistent and giving his all. There was the odd tiny error, such as a slightly early change, and they earned 41.7 for eventual equal 12th place.
Sam Griffiths, very elegant in his unusual dark grey tails, had Happy Times firing on all cylinders from the start, with high scores across the board. This horse is very secure and really allows himself to be ridden. Lots of 8s and the odd 8.5, and lovely relaxed expressive changes really skipping off the floor, put a big smile on Sam’s face. He scored 9, 8, 9 for his final centre line, and ended up on 36.8 (after his score was amended) in 3rd place.
Oliver Townend looked delighted with Armada’s secure and flowing test which scored 38.7 for 5th, including two 10s, for the first and last halts. As one of the most experienced Burghley horses in the field, he must have a great chance tomorrow.
These were the only combinations to cause a shake-up in the Leaderboard, so William Fox-Pitt and Michael Jung go forward to the XC phase in equal first place, with Sam Griffiths in 3rd place, only 2.6 penalties behind them, and Ros Canter, on her 4* debut, the only other British rider in the top 10. The scores are very tight and with the feedback from the riders about the course being that it is big and testing, and that the time might be difficult to get, I foresee big changes tomorrow… I can’t see this being a dressage competition!
The Final Dressage Results Scoreboard is HERE.
Sam Griffiths was asked about his thoughts on the XC, and which horses it would suit:
“It’s tough out there, you need real power jumper, with lots of endurance, the time is going to be tight so you need a bit of blood in your horse”… “it’s really tough, one of the toughest I’ve seen in a long time”… “the horse needs to be able to jump a big fence, can’t have any weaknesses out there.”
Michael Jung: it was announced that this was his 30th test under 40 pens this season, a record.
Is he nervous before the XC: “I have 2 very good horses, I am not very nervous, I have to be very concentrated, and have a very good feeling for the horse before the XC.”
“Conditions are perfect, good weather, perfect ground”… “a nice beginning, then it gets very tough.”
When asked about his test, he said he was “very happy about Sam, he was very good in the beginning, there was a little mistake in the first flying change, all in all a good round.”
William Fox-Pitt said he was “delighted with Pimms, it’s his first four star, he coped so well with the atmosphere, it’s a big step up, you have to admire a horse when they take that challenge and do it so well”…”he’s a lovely horse to ride on the flat, easy, comfortable, likes to show off.”
His thoughts on the XC:
“Mark has been very brave, everyone has their work cut out tomorrow, having it the other way round has completely changed the look of it, everyone is starting fresh” and “it’s a big step up for my horse, I just want him to go well.”
When I asked whether he was planning on doing any long routes, or would see how it goes, he replied, to a ripple of laughter, that he has “looked at all the long routes.”
He said will feel how the horse is, and that Pimms is “athletic, able, he has a few opinions, sometimes takes charge a bit, needs to listen, he can be cheeky” but that you “want horse to be up for it” and “if something comes early on when he is feeling a bit exuberant that might be tricky, but that “he usually settles as he goes on.”
The final, humorous word goes to William Fox-Pitt, who is not downplaying the difficulty out there: “The first 3 fences are the only nice ones on the course as far as I can see!”
Very best of luck to all horses and riders tomorrow, it’s going to be a fascinating and very testing day of competition.