Burghley has unveiled Capt. Mark Phillips’ 2014 cross-country course with an excellent preview video and tour around the track. Mark, who enters his 22nd year of designing the course, introduced an all-new track last year, changing the direction in which horses and riders run around the grounds, and he kept that same new route this year, though all the combinations are different.
With 32 fences and 45 jumping efforts in all, the course begins with the traditional Olympic Horse Shoe at fence 1. Fence 2 is Lambert’s Sofa, just a short run from the horse shoe to settle the riders’ nerves and help the horses get into a rhythm. Fence 3, the Chinese House, is the last of the easy fences before horses enter the main arena to tackle the Lord Burghley Hurdles at fence 4, the first combination on course.
This year, Mark placed the hurdles in an S-shape, so riders will slalom through the three hurdles, which will be filled with water and surrounded by flowers on the actual cr0ss-country day. Then it’s on to Discovery Valley at fence 5, where riders will have to push the pedal down to get enough impulsion after the ditch at A to make it up the hill to the brush at B, with five strides to a triple brush at C.
Fence 6 is the Elephant Trap, which is a bit of a let-up for horses at this level, Mark said, giving the horses a breather and the chance for the heart rate to steady before moving on to some of the more difficult combinations in the first part of the course. This fence is also set with frangible pins.
The planet fence, which was used on Sue Benson’s course at the 2012 London Olympic and served as fence 5c in Discovery Valley at last year’s Burghley, has now been moved to the Classics Leaf Pit at fence 7. The half moon makes up the B element, with a visually impressive sun owl hole at fence 8.
Riders then head back through Discovery Valley for fence 9, going over the narrow bonnet of the brush to A, then three strides down to the ditch, with a bending three strides to a corner at C, which will likely see glance offs, as the door is wide open to the left, Mark said.
Then it’s on to Herbert’s Hollow at fence 10, where the undulating ground makes for an unbalanced approach for horses. Fence 11 at Herbert’s Hedge is set at 4’9″, making it one of the biggest fences on course, and the 4-minute marker sits just beyond it. Mark expects riders to be about 15 to 20 seconds down on the clock at this point, as it’s impossible to be quick through Discovery Valley both ways, he said.
The V-Rails at fence 12 is one of the new fences on course this year, replacing an oxer that had been used for the past few years. Mark said it will be a rider frightener, being an airy fence set over water. The Land Rover Trout Hatchery comes at fence 13 and 14, with a hedge set in the water and four strides out to the log back in, which has a 6-foot drop on the back. The out at C is a narrow edge and poses a risk for a glance off, Mark said.
Fence 15, The Captain’s Log, comes late in the fifth minute of the course, and it’s the final let-up fence before the most technical section of the track, which begins with the big Maltings Oxer at fence 16. Then riders go on to the Maltings Bounce and Corner at fence 17 and 18, which is the first time a bounce has been seen on the course in at least 10 years, Mark said. It’s an uphill bounce and the most difficult combination on course so far, as a corner set at a 90-degree angle follows at 18b, which looks very tempting for a glance off to the left.
Fence 19ab is the Rolex Combination, with the B element as a corner brush instead of a hedge this year, which creates a glance-off risk to the right. Fence 20ab, the Land Rover Dairy Farm, is more straightforward this year, and Mark said he thinks riders will benefit from ignoring the option here, which goes down a set of steps, and committing to the direct route.
There’s a long gallop after the Land Rover Dairy Farm, giving riders the chance to make up time before coming to fence 21, the Huntsmans Lodge, which is then followed by Cottesmore Leap at fence 22, the biggest fence on course and the traditional Burghley fence. With a three-meter base and the back hedge stretching to 4’9″, riders are always glad to get it behind them, Mark said.
Fence 23 is Winner’s Avenue, set in the fastest section of the course, where horses will reach speeds of up to 700 and 800 meters per minute, making up time with the finish line it sight. Fence 24, the Pardubice, has been on the course for the last few years and is the final let-up fence before the last questions on course.
Fence 25 at Capability’s Cutting is two inches higher this year, and riders will then tackle a steep drop to fence 26, where they have a choice of going left or right over airy oxers. The fence on the left is wider, though Mark said which way riders go will largely depend on how they land off of fence 25.
Fence 27 is Stamford Station, a white parallel named after the local town of Stamford about a mile from the venue. Fence 28ab is the Anniversary Splash, a jump in over a hedge with about a 2-meter drop into the water, then an owl hole out at B on the island, which was also in this same spot last year and jumped well, Mark said.
The Lincolnshire Goose comes at fence 28 and has caught out tired horses in the past; there’s an option with a brush nest here for riders who’d prefer not to take the course. The Lions Bridge Marina is at fence 30ab, where horses and riders will tackle two boats in the water with the Burghley House creating a lovely backdrop.
Fence 31, the Flower Frame, is the penultimate fence on course, and then riders come to the end at fence 32, the Land Rover finale.
“It’s big, it’s Burghley, but I think it’s fair,” Mark said. “Riders will have to take their brains with them and think about how they will strategize the course and how they’re going to be at what time, because it’s not a walk in the park. You can’t go out and just gallop about. Certainly whoever wins it and wins all that Land Rover prize money will be a worthy winner.”
The course is set at 6,500 meters with an optimum time off 11 minutes, 24 seconds. Click here to watch the full preview video with Capt. Mark Phillips, and stay tuned for much more as we count down the weeks to Burghley.