Sam Griffiths and Happy Times, his loyal campaigner who he calls the Roger Federer of Eventing, were the last to go before the Friday lunch break at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, but you’d have kicked yourself if you’d snuck off early and missed his test. With an Olympic Games (London) under their belts together and two third places right here at Burghley they, know when and how to turn it on.
“I was really pleased with my test. Warming up he was actually quite tense and I thought it might all go pear-shaped but he trotted out into the middle of the arena and went, ‘Oh, it’s Burghley, I’m just going to relax and do a nice test!’ There were a couple of little mistakes in there but he went really nicely. I’m really pleased with that score, that’s got me really competitive but there’s a couple more days of competition to go with a really demanding cross country track, but my horse is experienced, I know he goes well around here, so hopefully I can be right up there at the end.”
“I’d love to say I’m really relaxed but it’s a daunting cross country and it’s a tough competition, but I’ve done it a few times before so I know I can go well here. Whenever you say the word Burghley you know it’s going to be massive, whenever you watch it on telly you never quite get the idea of the size of some of the fences but you’ve got to have a super-talented horse, a really brave horse and a well-trained horse to go well around this course. I’d love to win it if you really want to know, my horse is getting towards the end of his career and I feel he could still really win this but a lot’s got to go right over the next couple of days.”
Happy Times was inducted into the Event Riders Hall of Fame for horses last night. This is his seventh time at Burghley and his 11th CCI4* start.
Sir Mark Todd and NZB Campino had already gone earlier in the day and performed as expected for a horse with four CCI4* starts and four placings under his belt, did a nice test. “I was very happy, the horse is pretty experienced now. He’s not flashy in this phase but he’s pretty solid, there was just one little mistake in the first change and I was very happy with the mark. There’s a lot of good horses here and the course is tough and will play a big part but it’s always nice to be up amongst the leaders before you set off across country.
“I think it’s a typical Burghley, it’s big all the way round, I think we jump something like ten or eleven fences in the first two minutes so it’s pretty intense with two water crossings, the second water is a difficult fence and then all the way around there’s just big questions, there’s no let-up and of course you’ve got the ups and downs, the hills as well. That’s my biggest worry with this horse and why he hasn’t been here before, he hasn’t got a lot of thoroughbred in him and he’s not the fastest thing on four legs but we’ve got perfect going and that will help him and we’ll see what we can do.”
Sarah Cohen, who now professes to be a ‘semi-retired’ eventer as she only has Treason and is also a mother to two children aged 3 and 7, also staked her claim on the sharp end of the leaderboard this morning with a very nice test and as I type this the only Brit currently in the top ten.
“He was great! A little bit of tension crept in towards the end but we held it together, I was really pleased with him, he did some lovely trot work, it’s one of the best tests he’s perhaps done. I couldn’t have asked any more. It’s a bit frustrating about the first couple of changes because he is great at those but when the tension creeps in they can just go a little bit not to plan, but generally I was really pleased with him.”
Sarah is a local rider, she only lives half an hour away, and when she competed here on Treason 3 years ago she’d only just had her second baby some six months prior. Between that and an insignificant but annoying injury four years ago that put paid to their London 2012 team chances. Sarah feels this might be their year.
“I’d say he’s fitter than he was three years ago and he had a great round back then so I’m hoping for an even better round this time. Because I do it just for a bit of fun now and I only have him at home, I wanted to give it our all, not that I haven’t before but this was a bit the last chance and he’s feeling so fit and well and we’ve got nothing to lose!
“I think it’s a really nice track, it’s a big track but it’s Burghley, it’s always going to be big. I think there are a lot of places you could have silly mistakes but there are a lot of places where if something doesn’t go right there is always plan b, plan c and even plan d here. He’s been a bit cheeky a couple of times this year but he’s had two really good runs at Barbury and Gatcombe so we come here full of confidence.”
This time last year Ben Hobday was watching Burghley from his hospital bed, but he didn’t let himself think about that before he went into the arena this morning on Ramilo. Instead he focused on helping get the best performance he could out of his first time four-star partner. Once he’d finished though the enormity of what he’s achieved began to sink in.
“It’s pretty amazing to be back here doing it. I just focused on keeping the horse together and keeping his focus on me. Once we’d finished the test, well, I’m just letting it all soak in really. I’m pleased with the horse, he tried, he doesn’t find the dressage very easy, I thought they were a touch harsh on him, he isn’t going to challenge the leaders by any means in the dressage but it is what it is and we’ll have to kick on tomorrow and try and make up the difference.
“You can never come to Burghley without respecting the jumps, he’s (Captain Mark Phillips) has done a real job of building a big, technical course so I hope my horse is up to it and so am I. It’s the horse’s first four star so to complete and give him a safe round is the number one priority and number two is to try and chase the leaders as best we can!”
Ben was also supposed to bring Mulry’s Error the super cob to Burghley but the horse “missed a couple of canters due to little niggles and he’s a big lad and needs to be on top of his fitness.” Ben and the owners decided to err on the side of caution: “I just felt he wasn’t as fit as I’d like him and although it’s a shame it would be more of a shame to bring him here and not do him justice. ” We’re happy to hear that all is okay with him and look forward to seeing him out again soon.”
Still more dressage to come this afternoon especially USA’s Holly Payne Caravella and Never OutFoxed, and the leaderboard keeps changing. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive went earlier in the day, and you can catch up on their comments on their tests here. We’ll have a full round up and quotes from the press conference at the end of the day, but until then go eventing!