Winner: For me, it’s Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, through and through, and I am so sorry for jinxing them if it doesn’t pan out this weekend. This pair just deserve a British five-star victory on their record so much; Toledo is one of the greatest event horses of the modern era, in my humble opinion, and he’s already won at Pau and been a silver and gold medallist at Tokyo, among his enormous roster of accolades. There are few horses who can succeed at both Pau — on the tight, twisty, technical far end of the 5* spectrum — and Burghley — the huge, bold, terrain-heavy other end of that spectrum, but Toledo adapts himself to any course so admirably. He was fourth here on his last appearance back in 2017 as a ten-year-old, and I can’t wait to see what he makes of his return this week.
Best Foreign Entry: It’s a bit of a ‘cheat’ for me to say Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue, because they’re British based, but still, it counts — and who’d want to bet against this extraordinary little horse, who delivered by far the fastest round of the day in incredibly tough conditions at Badminton this year? He finished looking like he could have done another minute, ultimately finishing third, and this week, the conditions are far more favourable, so even with the tougher terrain, I think he’s going to be one of the most noteworthy rounds to watch come Saturday. This is his first Burghley, but I have faith we’ll get more of the ‘Salty’ magic this week.
Best Mare: Well, Liberty and Glory, naturally — more on this below — but also, Ros Canter’s excellent Pencos Crown Jewel. She’s been incredibly successful in her own right, finishing top ten at Badminton this year, Bicton 5* on her debut in 2021, and eleventh here last year, but she’s always rather overshadowed by her maternal half-brother, Lordships Graffalo. This is her week to prove that she’s every inch as good as Walter, and I think she’ll be a right in her wheelhouse doing so.
Dark Horse: Surely they don’t count as dark horses anymore, but speaking of competitors who seem to get overshadowed in the wider conversation, I have to give the nod to David Doel — the kindest man in eventing — and Galileo Nieuwmoed. This is such a cheat pick for me, because they’ve been in the top ten in their last three five stars (Badminton, Pau, and Kentucky), AND they led Pau after cross-country, but I still feel like they’re often being missed out in the chit-chat because of the major names in this line-up. I’ll be looking at them to finish in the business end again and for everyone to finally realise that they’re a truly world-class combination.
You Don’t Know Them Know, But You Will: I’ve liked the look of Matt Heath’s Askari ever since he was an Intermediate being taken around by British team head honcho Dickie Waygood — he’s got the sweetest splashy face and a tonne of talent. He’s impressed me on both his runs around terrain-heavy Bramham CCI4*-L — he’s bold, and game, and clever with his feet, and Matt is one hell of a cross-country jockey. I think a lot of people will find a new favourite here as the gelding takes on his first five-star.
Highest Climber After Cross Country: It’s a tough one for me to call between 21-year-old Alice Casburn and her homebred Topspin, who climbed from 30th to eighth after cross-country last year, ultimately moving up to fifth on the final day, and flying firefighter Tom Crisp and his own homebred, Liberty and Glory, who climbed from 39th to fifteenth on cross-country and then moved up to ninth in the showjumping. But after that unlucky dunking at Badminton this spring in the lake, at which point Tom and ‘Lori’ had been giving one of the performances of the day — Tom’s unseating came when she twisted a bit in the air, and as he was due an operation on a hernia, he was slightly short on his usual core strength — I want to give this one to Tom. Everyone will be rooting for him as, even in the throes of heartbreak, he put on a show, ‘swimming’ in the lake before taking a bow, and there are few horses more fun to watch than the tiny, feisty mare he’s mounted on. I’m gunning for another top ten for them this week, and even though the first phase isn’t Lori’s forte, the pair are so capable and quick that it’s totally within their wheelhouse to put themselves at the business end again when it counts.
There’s going to, rightly, be a lot of talk about Toledo, but Swallow Springs is totally on my radar – and EquiRatings’ too, who have him down as favorite to win. So, I’m going to play the numbers game. Oliver has ridden at Burghley every year since 2006 (except, of course, the Covid years) – he won it the third time of trying (and the first time he completed, in 2009), and has since won again, as well as coming second, third and fourth – he’s going for his third win this weekend. Swallow Springs comes forward for his third go at Burghley – he was third on his first attempt, with Andrew Nicholson in the irons, when he finished on his dressage. He’s certainly shown he can be there or thereabouts after the first phase, and was sitting in third after dressage at Badminton in the spring. According to EquiRatings, Swallow Springs is the third fastest horse in the field and there’s no denying his cross country jumping ability. He may have a pole on the final day, but so could a lot of the other horses, and if all three phases show up for him, I think he could be onto a winner. All these threes are talking to me and whispering that maybe it’ll be third time lucky for this lovely horse.
Best Foreign Entry:
I’ll kick on with my head choice – and stick with my three theme – and put Tim Price and Vitali in here. They were third at Burghley last year and have had top 10 finishes in all three of their top-level outings together – in fact, their last three runs have been 5*s. We all know that Burghley’s not a dressage competition, but last year they put down a 21.3 in the first phase – the fourth best Burghley dressage score of all time, and, according to EquiRatings, Vitali is the second best dressage horse in the field this year, based on their 6RA stats, (OK, so my threes theory runs out of gas here). You have to go right back to his first FEI outing (with former rider James Avery) to find cross country jumping penalties on his record, and he’s shown he can be close to the time at the level, although he hasn’t quite been inside it, yet. Vitali’s show jumping can drop him down the order – although Tim has the most Burghley show jumping clears in the field – but the twelve he added on the final day in the Burghley Main Arena last year only saw him drop one place. If they’re to be up there at the end of proceedings, this will be a real team effort – starting out like they mean business, Tim putting his foot down on the cross country, and Vitali holding it together in the show jumping – just as eventing should be.
In case you’re wondering, my heart choice is Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. I could run the stats and come up with a very similar argument to the one above, but sometimes it’s nice to just follow your heart, and Thomas is a horse that I get heart-eyed-emoji about. I’d love to see him have a great Burghley, and I think he just might.
Boyd’s back in my picks, with On Cue – a mare that I am very much looking forward to seeing on her first trip overseas. She comes forward for her third 5*, having placed third in her debut at the level at Kentucky, and then winning on her second attempt – at Maryland, where she posted a 25 in the dressage and then finished on that score. She probably won’t win the dressage in present company, but for sure she’ll be in the hunt as we go into the cross country, and she’s amongst the most reliable cross country horses in the field, with no jumping penalties on her record since a 2* in 2018. She’s not always the fastest, but she can be if Boyd decides to go for it, so we’ll just have to wait and see how she’s feeling on the day. She’s an exciting talent, that’s for sure.
I’m actually backing David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed for the win, but as I needed a combination for the dark horse category, and Galileo is literally a dark horse, I’m putting him in here. As an eight-year-old he tackled his first 4* at Le Pin au Haras in 2019, adding nothing to his dressage of 33.3 for second. At his first 5* – Pau in 2021 – he was 15th, with a double clear cross country but a couple of poles on the final day. Last year, the pair burst onto the Badminton leaderboard, finishing 6th with David the highest-placed Badminton first-timer. It was jumping clear all the way, adding just 1.2 cross country time to their dressage of 32.4. He returned to Pau last season to finish 4th, jumping clear inside the time on cross country day – one of only four to make the time and coming in 9 seconds under – and missing out on the win by just one show jumping pole. He followed that up with eighth place at Kentucky this spring, finishing on his dressage with a score of 35.6. This is a bold, scopey horse who’s as fun to watch as he is talented, and I won’t be at all surprised if he’s right up at the top once all’s said and done.
You Don’t Know Them Know, But You Will:
When you hear Kristina Hall-Jackson talk about CMS Google, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement she has for their partnership. They’ve completed at all but one of their 26 FEI starts together (withdrawing at the only one they didn’t complete), and their cross country round at Badminton in the spring was, for me, one of the rides of the day. Yes, they had a couple of green refusals, but it was only their second time at the level – Google is still gaining mileage – and, if your horse tells you she’s having the time of her life, it’s totally commendable to kick on and finish the thing, gaining enormous experience and building your partnership along the way. They finished 29th and were the highest-placed British Badminton first-timers. This is for sure a combination that is up-and-coming, and, whilst I don’t think they’re going to win Burghley this time around, if you love seeing a horse digging deep and a partnership that’s truly a team, then this exciting prospect is one to watch. Also, best Christmas present ever! That’s right, Kristina got Google for Christmas, excuse me while I get all dreamy-eyed for a second.
Highest Climber After Cross Country:
Aistis Vitkauskas and Commander VG is my sensible choice for this category, but I just have to add Francis Whittington’s DHI Purple Rain in here. It’s a bit of a game of two halves based on his stats – on recent form, he’s likely to be at the bottom end of the hunt after the first phase – but that’s very much down to mood and atmosphere rather than talent for the test. More often than not, he’s in the low-30s in the first phase, and therefore in the mix, but he can get hot, hot, hot – as he did at Badminton in the spring – and when that happens, despite Francis being brilliant under the pressure, those scores just slip away. But it’s the cross country that’s really important for this category. I was incredibly taken by how this horse took on all that the Badminton track threw up this year. One thing you’ll notice about this guy is his extravagant and flamboyant action – he really is a sight to see. You’d have thought he was totally unsuited to the sticky, difficult going, but no – he ate that course up and looked like he relished every single second. He was quick that day – he isn’t always, but Francis has been spending time patiently producing this lovely horse and so doesn’t always have his foot down. After his gutsy performance at Badminton though, perhaps he’ll feel that ‘Prince’ is ready to run – we’ll have to wait and see. In terms of highest climber, it’s more likely to be Commander VG if you look at form alone (he’s one of the fastest horses in the field for a start), but based on circumstantial evidence and my own observations, there’s a real possibly it’ll be DHI Purple Rain.
Well, I always find this hard, and this time is no different. I honestly haven’t a clue – I could jump on about ten different horses (figuratively speaking that is – I doubt any of the top jockeys would let me get on their finely tuned partners in crime), including 5* stalwart Ballaghmor Class, his stablemate Swallow Springs, the recently crowned European Champion Ros and Pencos Crown Jewel, (who also happens to be half sister to Ros’ European ride, and Badminton champ, Lordships Graffalo), Tokyo Olympic Gold and Silver Medallist Tom McEwan….the list goes on. But I am going to go with my heart here, and say FEI World No. 1, Tim Price with Vitali, who was third here last year. We all know Vitali, who can easily dance his way to the top of the leader board on dressage day and follow it up with a speedy clear across country has a major Achilles heel in the show jumping. Three down here last year dropped him down from second, while another three at Badminton this spring dropped him from fourth to seventh, but STILL! This is eventing, the sport where anything can – and does – happen, and I would love to see Vitali and Tim have their day. If I was to have a back up, I’d say Tom McEwan and Toledo. In fact, in all honesty, they’re a more likely candidate, as they are pretty infallible in all three phases, but no. I shall go with my heart, and stick on Tim. An utter genius in the saddle and an all round super human in general, it would make me very, very happy to have him add another Burghley title to his ever growing list of major wins, and with such a lovely horse, too. GO TIM! And Vitali, pick your bloody feet up!
Best Foreign Entry:
Is it cheating to say Tim again? Ok, yes…he may be a Kiwi but let’s face it, he’s part of the fixtures and fittings over here now. So instead, I’ll venture to America, and pick Boyd Martin, with On Cue. She has had just 20 cross country penalties across her six year FEI career, and is the definition of girl power. This is her first trip to Burghley, but with a cross country record like that, the tough track that lies ahead on Saturday shouldn’t cause her too much trouble, and her consistency in the dressage should stand her in good stead, too. Unfortunately, her show jumping record isn’t as squeaky clean; she has tipped rails in almost all of her starts this season, and as such she may struggle to make the podium. Having said that, if she can pull her usual sub 20 dressage mark out of the bag as well as another magical cross country performance, she may earn herself enough leeway to drop a few poles and still stay in the mix. Either way, she will no doubt make Boyd’s trip across the pond more than worthwhile, even if it is just to show us all how it is done over one of the toughest tracks in the world.
I could be really lazy and simply say, see above (On Cue), but then I’d feel guilty…I really, really wanted to say Luna Mist, only so I could talk about the incredible upside down half moon on her forehead. She’s so pretty! But I don’t think that would pass as a good enough reason to back her as the best mare. So instead let’s talk about Jasmine – Pencos Crown Jewel. Piloted by this season’s golden girl, Ros Canter, and half sibling to the Badminton and European Champ Lordships Graffalo, all eyes will be on her this weekend. Rightly so, it must be said. She may not have quite as long a list of accolades to her name as her (half) bro, but she is still a mare worthy of much celebration. Second in the CCI-4*L at Bramham last June, she then made her Burghley debut and came in eleventh, and bettered that with ninth at Badminton this Spring. She isn’t quite as careful as Walter on the final day – she had 3 down here last year, and 2 at Badminton – which may keep her off that coveted top spot, but that’s not to say she can’t pull a clear out of the bag. In fact, she did just that at Bramham last year, despite a whole jump blowing over beside her mid-round. So it won’t be surprising to see her finish top 10 – nay, top 5, nay, top THREE! – this weekend, especially considering she is partnered by Ros, Queen of Absolutely Everything (in my world, anyway).
Um, this is awkward, but I am going for a literal dark horse here. David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed. Admittedly, they were eliminated at their first 5* at Bicton in 2021, but they have put that far behind them and not only completed, but smashed every 5* start since. Sixth at their first Badminton in 2022 with a double clear, fourth at Pau later that year with one show jump, eight at their first Kentucky this Spring with another double clear, this is not a horse that will be under the radar for very much longer. Nor does it seem fair that he is still an eligible contender for this category – or that he hasn’t yet made it on to a Championship team. But that, lads, is a conversation for another day. Today we are here to talk about Burghley, a tough cross country test that requires a brave, fast horse, and guess what, we have one right here. Add to that a pretty snazzy show jumping record – not a single pole all season thus far – and an ever improving first phase score, and you have a dark horse about to put his best foot forward into the light.
You Don’t Know Them Know, But You Will:
Burghley 2023 sees one of the most competitive line ups since well, a long time. Up against several major players from overseas — including Boyd Martin from the US with not one, but two rides (one of which is already a 5* winner) — are a veritable feast of UK based superstars. We’re talking Olympic, European and World Medallists, the FEI World Number , and of course, this year’s Badminton Winner. However, as exciting as it is to see all of these legends in action, there is also a multitude of lesser known faces making their 5* debut this weekend. One such debutant is nine year old Shanbeg Cooley, ridden by Northumberland-based Harry Mutch who is, in his own right, a rider to keep your eye on. This will be Harry’s fourth 5* start but the very first for ‘Jager.’ Some might say that Burghley is quite the challenge for such a young and relatively inexperienced horse, but Harry has a lot of faith in him, especially after a successful romp around the equally trying CCI-L4* at Bramham in June, to finish inside the top 20. Harry calls him a ‘freak,’ who could easily have been a pure showjumper – this will certainly stand him in good stead on the final day, as will his preference to run fast across country. His dressage is a work in progress, but with 3 double clears from 5 international starts this season, this is a horse that could well fly up the leader board after the jumping phases, putting himself firmly in the spotlight, and proving himself as one to watch for the future.
Highest Climber After Cross Country:
Austin O Connor and Colorado Blue. I do not need to say much to justify this, the stats speak for themselves. Although he is usually well down after dressage, he is just as likely to be back in the top 10 – or 5 – after cross country. Need evidence? 34th to 3rd at Badminton this Spring, and similar scenes the year before, climbing way up to finish eighth at only their second 5*. They were best of the Irish in Tokyo in 13, thanks again to a game of leader board leap frog after cross country and I won’t be alone in predicting the same happens here. Hopefully Salty can maintain his position on the final day, as his tendency to knock a few poles has seen him go back down a few spots too – he would have been second at Badminton had it not been for two rails on the final day – but it is still oh so fun to see him skip so far up the leader board after cross country! I feel a new bet for all the gamblers out there….how many places can Austin go up this time?
The odds are against anyone who isn’t Oliver Townend this weekend, who will enter the ring three separate times on very competitive horses. Swallow Springs currently has the highest probability scoring from our friends at Equiratings, and his record shows a typical expert-level challenge to the rest of our field of competitors. After taking a silver at Badminton thanks to his ridiculously low dressage score – with over 7 points between him and the third-place finisher – another similar test could give them a nice comfortable cushion should time be lost on cross country.
Ballaghmor Class, however, may be the more suited horse for this particular competition, with a much higher tendency to produce the kind of confident cross country ride that will be needed this week. This gelding hasn’t been out of the top five in any of his eight five-stars – with just a pole or two in show jumping keeping him from shining success, though he does have two wins at the level to his name. I am never very successful in my attempts at predictions (so don’t quote me on any of these!), but I definitely look forward to seeing how these two – as well as Oliver’s third competitive entry Tregilder – duke it out for the finish.
Best Foreign Entry:
Our Kiwi friends Tim Price and Vitali took Burghley by storm last year post-dressage on the lowest score in the field at 21.3 – one that managed to secure them in third place despite three show jumping rails and 5.2 time faults on cross country. They took a seventh place finish at Badminton this year with nearly the exact same story – a 27.1 dressage score that was added to with three rails and an understandable amount of time on cross country, crossing the finish as the fourth fastest even given the field conditions. Experience will prove itself in challenging competition, and I don’t think this weekend will be an exception for this well-seasoned pair.
Always my favorite will be the beautiful queen that is On Cue – winner of this year’s Bromont CCI4*-S and also of my heart. Cue’s only two 5*s thus far have seen a win and a fourth place finish, with very few deviations outside the top ten – or top five, for that matter. While certainly not the fastest horse in the field, her first Burghley outing will call for technique and bravery, which she certainly has in hand with only one cross country refusal in her entire history. If she can keep the rails up in the final phase, she’s sure to give a very competitive score.
While not exactly a typical dark horse, one pair that I feel may be overlooked is the Irish duo Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. The two have been slowly decreasing their average dressage score over the years, and have seen top ten finishes at the only two 5* completions they have under their belt. Most importantly, however, is “Salty’s” tendencies for a fast and clear cross country – the gelding put in the fastest time on this year’s very wet and difficult Badminton course, earning them a spot on the podium. They also added only one dropped pole in the Tokyo Olympics for a 13th place finish, so a competitive dressage score could mean a huge advantage for this pair.
You Don’t Know Them Know, But You Will:
Julia Norman sent me on a research journey this week when I learned that she had recently switched nationalities to her late mother’s homeland of Zimbabwe. This previously-British competitor’s entry brings a first for Burghley’s records, and while Julia has a Burghley run under her belt, this will be Ardeo Berlin’s only second run at the CCI5* level. “Bert” is not to be discounted, however, after taking a quick fourth place finish at Ballindenisk this spring. His dressage scores aren’t typically star-studded, but this rider’s story will surely be the talk of the town this week.
Highest Climber After Cross Country:
The ever-talented Shanbeg Cooley always catches my eye, and while he’s known for not always being able to put down the best scores in the sandbox, he is known for being an absolute freak on cross country. Earning double-clears more often than not, this fast and strong stallion seems made for Burghley. This will be his 5* debut piloted by the young but experienced Harry Mutch, who has mentioned quite a bit about the difficult young horse’s work to make it to this field. If the hot-headed “Jaeger” truly is fitter than he’s ever been, we are certainly sure to see quite the show from this pair come Saturday.
EN’s coverage of Burghley is presented by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn all about their full line of science-backed nutritional support products, including Neigh-Lox Advanced for digestive support.