Day Two at Defender Burghley: Tim Price Smashes New Record to Become Dressage Leader

The best of days in the office: Tim Price and Vitali take the Burghley lead and smash all the records in the process. Photo by Libby Law.

There’s taking the first-phase at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials, and then there’s what Tim Price pulled off today: not just a decisive leap into the top spot with Tokyo partner Vitali (Contender – Noble Lady, by Heraldik), but the only sub-20 score in Burghley history and, as such, a new record for the competition, a new record for the CCI5* level (non-inclusive of championships) — and Tim’s own career personal best at any international level, to boot. That score? An almost obscene 18.7, which sees the pair go into cross-country tomorrow 5.5 penalties, or thirteen seconds, ahead of their nearest competitors.

“I can’t believe it,” says Tim. “He’s always had that ability, but he’s a quirky little horse. It’s usually a couple of things that are mainly my fault that don’t go quite to plan, but he was super today. He’s very capable of this sort of score, but as we all know, doing it on the day is what’s difficult. There’s always two or three or four things of note that you could do better, and then all the other bits and pieces that create those good scores. But today was a good day, and for me, it felt like a very working class approach for myself with a very classy horse underneath. I felt like I was really pushing and riding, and really not so focused on being perfect in my position — it was all about being effective.”

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Libby Law.

For the talented Holsteiner, who’s finished in the top ten in all three of his five-star starts, despite three rails at each, getting the headspace right has always been the key — and when that’s happened, as at Burghley last year when he scored a 21.3 and finished third, he’s been a bit of magic.

“He has done some good scores at this level once or twice, but I do believe he can do better, and he’s proven it today — he just needs full attention on the job,” says Tim. “And then, once he’s got that concentration, then he relaxes a little bit and I can really ride him, and then it’s poetry.”

Being able to really ride him, he explains, means feeling that the 13-year-old “just has a desire to go forward. And I think that’s true with any horse. I mean, it’s the age-old thing, isn’t it:  to go forward is key, but everything softens with him, including his mind. It’s always my way with most of them, to be honest. Just to have a desire to go somewhere — to go, ’round the corner, let’s go; round the corner, let’s go; bit of balance, bit of collection, now let’s go again’. Just so that becomes the norm, so then with a horse like him that’s established with the movements, you can just put the movements on top of that rhythm, and balance, and desire.”

It’ll be a different kind of Burghley cross-country day to Tim’s usual sun-up to sun-down busyness: we’re used to seeing him here with multiple horses, but with just Vitali on the roster tomorrow, and late in the day at that, he has a whole day to fill, and a plan in place for how to fill it.

“It’s funny, I came here this week, and looking at the guys with a few horses, I’ve been thinking, ‘I’m so pleased I’m not riding three!’,” he says. “But then, actually, when you do come with three, it’s very much the opposite. You just want to take it on and go to work. I’m here with one this year, which is a lot easier, but he is a complex character and it probably suits him to have a bit more of my attention, not just riding him, but just being around a bit more and just thinking things through.”

And as the day dawns?

“I think I’ll watch a few, pick a few out, and then go and relax — think about what I should have for breakfast, and just slow down the thinking, I think, until you get into the start box and away you go! You’ve got your ideas of how it goes, but it invariably goes differently to what you thought. But the ground is amazing; the terrain, I feel familiar with. I really enjoy it here — I like the time of year this arrives at. I’m keen to get out there.”

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Libby Law.

As the penultimate rider of the day, Oliver Townend had one hope for his 2017 Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class — simply to try to go one or two marks better than his day one leader, Swallow Springs, who had posted a 24.2. But while he didn’t manage that, he did deliver a rather remarkable show of consistency: the enormously experienced gelding cruised through the test to end up on exactly the same score, putting Oliver in equal second place with himself going into tomorrow’s cross-country.

“It’s strange, but it’s great,’ says Oliver, who also sits 13th with Tregilder on a 30.5. “Both horses are both very different horses to ride, but the result’s the main bit, and they both went in there and did the test with a smile on their faces. As far as I’m aware, they both jumped clear around in there, so to speak, so fingers crossed we continue the form for the next two days.”

Those differences, he explains, are expansive — from the way the two geldings are built to the way to their brains.

“Both are blood, sharp horses in very, very different ways,” he says. “Swallow Springs could do anything, really; he’s very light on the floor and very wick. He’s very sharp, and a little bit swallow-like; he’s a bit all over the show and very light to ride. You know with him that if you don’t feel like you need the reins in the dressage, he’s doing a good job. Ballaghmor Class is more of a heavy horse to ride in that he’s athletic and powerful, but in a very different way — he’s not the lightest of athletes, he’s kind of a little bit… clunky is the wrong word, but he’s a little less sensitive in some ways, and very sensitive in others. It’s difficult to describe, but they’re definitely chalk and cheese.”

It’s hard to imagine how odds could be stacked much more favourably than they are for Oliver; not only does he have two horses in equal second — and that extra in the top fifteen — but he’s also mounted on three rides tomorrow that either have clears inside the time or very-near clears inside the time under their belt at the level already, and in the case of those two greys, both of them have managed the feat at Burghley. But, he acknowledges, it’s never wise to get complacent — particularly here, and particularly as the memory of his tough weekend last year, which saw him fall at the penultimate fence with Tregilder and earlier in the course with Swallow Springs, proves that just about anything can happen out on course.

“I think everything just stands up at you that bit bigger at these five-stars, and especially at Burghley with the terrain,” he says. “Fences come up a lot quicker, and you have to work a lot harder, especially when they’re huffing and puffing a little bit. The Dairy Mound, I think, will be quite physical — you need to get a blow into the horses down the hill to that, and then get them back up again, so you really have to make it happen. It’s Burghley, from start to finish. First, I’ll think about jumping the fences clear, then it’s about riding the horse, rather than the clock, and seeing where we end up.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Libby Law.

Tom McEwen now holds the fourth-place spot with his second ride, Toledo de Kerser, who produced a typically consistent, professional test to earn a score of 25.6. But where Toledo is consistently excellent, he does also have one small consistent weak spot — his walk work. That cost them today, and they received 5s and 6s throughout the walk section of the test, precluding a higher-placing score.

Still, though, Tom isn’t going to bog himself down worrying about the finer margins when there’s so much Burghley left to be done.

“I’m delighted, actually,” he says. “I thought his lateral work was really good, his changes were excellent, and his canter work was really good. I tried a little bit of a different way of warming up, which did mean that he was a bit excitable in the walk and the halts, so it took a little while to get through those movements in the test. He’s got a bit bored with dressage, so even though you could nudge him around a test, I like having him a little bit fresh — and then he’s just too fresh for the walk, which is fine, because it shows that he’s fit and ready for tomorrow. I’m very much looking forward to that; for me, to have him back at Burghley is so exciting.”

This’ll be Toledo’s first Burghley since his fourth-place finish as a ten-year-old in 2017; since then, the Olympic individual silver medallist has been tied up with team obligations in this latter part of the season, and now, with JL Dublin having stepped into his usual role at the European Championships last month, he’s able to make a serious bid for a first British five-star win — one that Tom will be hoping to add to their 2019 Pau victory.

Tom also sits in twelfth place on a 30.5 with his first ride, five-star debutant Luna Mist, with whom he’ll leave the start box early tomorrow — and both horses, he explains, will require a different approach to taking on the bold Derek di Grazia track.

“I’ve got very different plans for both horses,” he says. “They’re both pocket rockets, but in their own different directions. The plan will be similar in some bits and different in others — but what an amazing track. The ground looks amazing; the course looks great, and I know Tim’s gone and got an amazing result with a beautiful test, so it’s all very competitive.”

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg. Photo by Libby Law.

Yesterday’s morning leaders, European Champion Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel, sit in fifth place now on their score of 26.9, while Boyd Martin, already well in the hunt in sixteenth with Maryland winner On Cue (31.8), takes control of sixth with his hugely experienced Olympic partner Tsetserleg TSF, who put a very good 28.1 on the board this afternoon.

“He’s a good old horse, and we’ve sort of had an up and down year this year, but I feel like we’ve just started to pull it all together even though he’s a veteran of the sport,” says Boyd. “To be in the mix with some of the best horses and best riders, it’s either a relief or happiness, but we’ve still got a mission ahead of us tomorrow and the next day.”

Burghley wasn’t necessarily always ‘Thomas’s’ major 2023 aim, but instead a bit of a rerouted plan after a frustrating early 20 and subsequent retirement at Kentucky this spring, and another early 20 at Luhmühlen in June. All that, though, he says has helped him prepare for a run here this week.

“I had a bit of a blip early on at Luhmühlen, so I sort of just coasted around the cross country course there, and in hindsight, the run didn’t take much out of Thomas,” says Boyd. “So then we just ran him once at Bromont, which was a Derek di Grazia course, three weeks ago. He won that and jumped really well, and then we shipped them over here [at the weekend]. Usually, the week before a five-star you’re practising your test and training them and galloping him and so, maybe luckily for Cue and Thomas, they had four or five days off. They shipped all the way here and were just hanging out with [groom] Steph; she hacked them around and then I got here on Monday and had a jump and a gallop and probably only two or three dressage rides.”

That lessened schooling schedule, he thinks, might be exactly what helped Thomas produce his best work.

“MaybeI should try that a bit more,” he muses. “The more you practice, the sourer they can get. They can get a sore mouth and a sore back, and sometimes with these old boys,  easing off them might be the ticket.”

Tsetserleg will be a late-in-the-day ride for Boyd, who’ll be sixth out of the start box on On Cue — but whether that early ride helps or hinders his plan for the diminutive Trakehner remains to be seen.

“It depends if the first one goes well,” he says with a laugh. “I do feel like the benefit in having multiple horses is that you have a feel of what’s about to come around the corner, which turn’s a bit slippery, and which jumps you’ve got to slow down to, so there is a slight advantage there. They’re quite different horses, though, Cue and Thomas. But they’re both legends. They’re two of my all-time favourite horses. They’ve both played an amazing part in my career and to be here, at the pinnacle of the sport, is awesome and we’re going to give it a good crack tomorrow.”

Another potential benefit on Boyd’s side? “I’ve probably ridden more Derek courses than any other rider here,” he says. “But still, it’s pretty hard to replicate what you’ve got here. There’s no Leaf Pit in the States that Derek’s been practicing with! So I’m not sure if it’s an advantage or not, but I’ll tell myself it is!”

This far away from home, Boyd won’t necessarily be able to use all his innovative tools to get his mindset right ahead of tomorrow — it’s pretty hard to bring an ice bath across the pond with you, after all. But his work over the last few years with his guru, Rubee, has given him plenty of ways to centre himself and get focussed on the job at hand.

“It’s a bit harder when you’re in another country, just because you can’t bring all your stuff with you,” says Boyd, who’s also flying solo without wife Silva this week, as she’s in the latter stages of pregnancy. “But, you know, it’s about staying calm and fired up at the same time and going through a routine. I probably won’t eat very much [before cross-country]; I’ll do a bit of stretching and just as the sun comes up, I’ll walk the course again by myself or with Eric Duvander. It’s actually a pretty swift course walk; you just sort of look at your plan, at the lines you’re jumping and how many strides you’re doing and stuff like that. I get bloody nervous watching everyone else go, but I’ve got a ride early on, so luckily for me, it’ll go pretty quick. Before I know it, I’ll be in a rush to get on my horse.”

Grace Taylor and Game Changer. Photo by Libby Law.

It’s been a barnstorming two days for the US contingent, which sees all six in the top twenty and three in the top ten, continued on apace thanks to British-based five-star debutant Grace Taylor and her Monart Sales graduate, Game Changer. They put an exceptional 28.9 on the board for overnight seventh — an achievement that’s made even more remarkable because it’s their first-ever international sub-30 mark.

“I’m speechless — I don’t know what to say, except thank you, Game Changer,” says the 27-year-old, whose mother, Ann (née Sutton) rode for the US team at the 1988 Olympics, and whose father, Nigel, was a five-star rider in his own right before becoming a selector for the British team and, of course, the proprietor of the prolific Aston le Walls eventing venue.

That wealth of knowledge in her corner — plus an awful lot of hard work — has obviously paid dividends for the up-and-coming rider and her exciting horse, with whom she finished in the top ten at Bramham this year. But to pull off a personal best in a five-star debut? That was beyond her wildest dreams — and it was with no shortage of emotion that she processed the actuality of the situation moments after her test.

“You just keep practising the test and hope you do your best on the day,” she says. “And he was brilliant today. He’s very reliable in the ring, which is great. He had a little look at the crowd as he walked down, but he got it out of his system.”

The top three riders, encompassing four places, after dressage. Photo by Libby Law.

Tomorrow’s cross-country day will begin at 11.15 a.m. (6.15 a.m. EST) with Harry Meade trailblazing aboard the most experienced of his three rides, Away Cruising. You can check out the times in full here, sign up for your Burghley TV membership to follow the live stream here, and, of course, keep it locked on EN for live updates throughout the competition and comprehensive reports, analysis, previews, and more. We’ll be bringing you a closer look at the track to come shortly, and you can preview the major questions and find out more about Derek di Grazia’s philosophy for this year’s track in our interview and course walk here. To our intrepid competitors, and to you: Go Eventing!

The top ten after dressage at the 2023 Defender Burghley Horse Trials.

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.

Defender Burghley Horse Trials Links: Website | Live Stream | Entries | EN’s Coverage

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments