Townend Rides Rookie to Burghley Lead, 3 Americans in Top 15

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

La Biosthetique Sam FBW, arguably the greatest event horse of all time, had never accumulated a cross country jumping penalty in his international career until today at Burghley with World No. 1 Michael Jung.

Two years ago Michael and Sam, the double Olympic gold medalists, bested the Trout Hatchery and beyond to win Burghley. Today they had a glance off at a triple brush to incur 20 penalties. Michael ultimately elected to retire.

“It was a stupid mistake from me and not from the horse,” Michael said in what can only be described as a gracious interview following a gutting moment in his storied career.

Mark Todd, the overnight leader after dressage with Leonidas II, had a sixth Burghley win in his sights — to tie William Fox-Pitt for the most wins in the history of the event — when he fell foul at Discovery Valley with Leonidas II.

He had a very good dressage and it was there for the taking, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” Mark said. “You have to pick yourself up, put things behind you, and go on to the next competition.”

That left the door open for Oliver Townend to lead on an unlikely hero, 10-year-old Ballaghmor Class in his four-star debut.

“A few people said I shouldn’t have brought him here, but I thought, why am I listening to them? I know horses.” A clear round and just 1 second over the time has Oliver holding the overnight lead on 40.6.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Gemma Tattersall, who has finished fifth previously at Burghley with Arctic Soul, wants more than to settle for her previous best finish at the biggest four-star in the world. Battling through a nasty chest infection that left her gasping for air throughout her round, she delivered one of the three clear rounds inside the time to move to second place on 43.0.

“I didn’t feel strong enough to sit back and make the turn, so I made the decision to go long at the Trout Hatchery,” Gemma said. “It rode massively, even on a big, scopey horse.”

Izzy Taylor, who has taken seven of her 14 international career wins during this season alone, once again proved she is an absolute force to be reckoned with on cross country, jumping clear and inside the time with Trevidden to rocket to third place on 45.6.

“The highlight of my round? Coming through the finish line!” Izzy said. “It was one of those rounds where I was having such a nice time that I had to remind myself not to fall off at a silly fence.”

Perhaps the nicest round of all came from Tina Cook and Star Witness, the very first pair out of the startbox. With pundits widely predicting only three pairs inside the time, Tina absolutely bossed it, coming home four seconds inside and making Capt. Mark Phillips’ course look easy to rocket from 40th up to 10th.

But it certainly wasn’t an easy course. While 45 of 60 starters completed — a 75% completion rate — only 50% of starters jumped clear. Three pairs made the optimum time of 11 minutes, 14 seconds. Fifteen pairs were eliminated or retired on course.

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It was a mixed day for Team USA, and we are extremely proud that five of our eight combinations completed the mammoth track. We have two inside the top 10 after cross country, with Lynn Symansky and the Donner Syndicate’s Donner leading the way with a clear round and 3.6 time penalties to sit eighth on 49.1.

“He comes out and is so reliable and so quick that I could afford to take a few long routes,” Lynn said. “For him, it actually rode a little bit better than I anticipated. He’s struggled with right-handed corners and runouts in the past, but now we can really put that behind us.”

Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Boyd Martin, who jumped clear and inside the time at Burghley in 2011 with Neville Bardos, sped around on a different Thoroughbred today. Steady Eddie, owned by George and Gretchen Wintersteen, Denise Lahey and Pierre Colin, rose to the occasion to cross the finish with 2.0 time penalties to sit ninth on 50.0.

There was a long time when Eddie looked like a real lemon and I was trying to get my money back,” Boyd said. “He broke my leg awhile back and I just wanted to get rid of him, but in the last 18 months he’s really come right.”

Lauren Kieffer and Veronica. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Lauren Kieffer and Team Rebecca’s Veronica, who sat second after dressage on a personal best of 37.0, executed her plan to jump clear and accumulated 28.0 time penalties to slip to 13th on 65.0.

Time did just tick away with us, but I’m thrilled with her,” Lauren said. “She’s taken me around Burghley and just kept on jumping great.”

Mackenna Shea rode bold and brave to the fences and absolutely attacked the course with her own Landioso. While they had a glance off at Discovery Valley to complete with 20 jumping  penalties, they still sit inside the top 25 overnight.

Mackenna Shea and Landioso. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

I could beat myself up about it all but as I said to Rodney (Powell) — one down, a lifetime to go,” she said. “I just have to keep strong for my horse and not let him think he did anything wrong.”

Woodge Fulton, one of the youngest riders in the field, showed wisdom beyond her age aboard her own Caption Jack, honing the instructions of her longtime coach Buck Davidson to produce a clear round in her Burghley debut.

“This is what he’s made to do, and he was still pulling at the end,” Woodge said. “I buried him sometimes and went long sometimes, and he just said, ‘Come on kid, let’s go!’”

Those five are smiling tonight, and we’re sending extra love to our three Americans who did not complete the course.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Under Suspection. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Hannah Sue Burnett fell from Mary Ann Ghadban’s Under Suspection at fence 17, the corner on the direct route at the Dairy Mound. Andrea Baxter parted ways with Indy 500 when the mare left a leg at the skinny log at Storm Doris at 11b, and while Andrea desperately tried to save it, she couldn’t quite hang on.

Lillian Heard and her own LCC Barnaby fell at fence 30, a narrow triple bar in the Leaf Pit, after a cracking round, and the course was held due to Barnaby being cast against the fence. Both Lillian and Barnaby are totally OK after the fall.

“We had a tough fall at the Leaf Pit and he took a little while to get back up because he was cast against the jump,” Lillian said. “He is happy relaxed and eating in his stall — hardly a scrape on him. The disappointment of falling so close to home after a good round is completely diminished by the total relief of having my horse be OK.”

LCC Barnaby snuggling with his super groom Isabelle Bosley, resting comfortably in his stall after cross country. Photo courtesy of Joanie Morris.

Eventing is a sport of high highs and low lows, and the 60 riders who set out on course today experienced a full range of emotions. Tilly Berendt stationed herself in the mixed zone today and spoke to many of the riders. Click here to read more quotes from Team USA, the leaders and beyond.

Click here to view scores after cross country, and click here to relive all the action in EN’s open thread. A million thanks to Nico Morgan for sharing his beautiful photos today. The final horse inspection is at 9 a.m. BST/4 a.m. EST. Go Eventing.