Hot on the heels of WEG 2014, it’s Burghley week! If you think you’ve got a WEG hangover from following all the madness this past weekend, just think about the riders who are coming straight from that competition to ride other mounts this week in England … I admire them already.
While you might think that Burghley is filled with second-string combinations because all the best went to the WEG, you’d be terribly wrong. Not only do we have a strong contingent of potentially very competitive American riders on the entry list, but we have a rematch for the history books on the line.
Spoiler alert: Andrew Nicholson is going for his third Burghley title in a row on the same horse, Avebury, but due to an unlucky run at WEG, Jock Paget is coming back to challenge him for the title that should have been his last year. Let’s take a look at the top combinations.
Allison Springer & Arthur: Allison and Arthur are certainly a combination that everyone is familiar with, and their story is peppered with distinct success followed by pieces of disappointment. They campaigned in 2012 to go to the Olympics, only to be left off the team. To teach us all a lesson, they went to Burghley and stormed around, finishing in sixth place with a 40 on the flat, a handful of time and two rails to add.
Arthur was sidelined in 2013 with an injury, but came back this year hankering for a spot on the WEG team. They won the dressage at Rolex this spring, but were thwarted once again by a runout late in the course, which ruined their hopes for Normandy. This horse is brilliant on the flat, and we know he will be at the forefront after that phase, and I hope they can re-create their success from 2012.
Hannah Sue Burnett & Harbour Pilot: Hannah and William completed their first CCI4* together this spring at Rolex in very good style, finishing in 15th place with a 55.7 on the flat, double clear cross country, and two rails on Sunday. Hannah has been around Rolex a handful of times on different horses, but this will be her first Burghley experience, as well as William’s.
They have great potential to wow in the first phase, as they scored a 45.7 at Pau CCI4* last fall, and I think they have the ability to re-create that performance. This will certainly be the biggest track that either of them have seen, but it is not far out of their reach, and it will be an excellent challenge as they both move on to be important members of Team USA for the future.
Phillip Dutton & Mighty Nice: Phillip is amongst the brave individuals who competed at WEG last week only to turn right around and do Burghley just a few short days later. Although Happy suffered a slight bout of colic right before the team left for Chantilly, he seems to have recovered well and is prepared for his Burghley debut.
Happy was 10th at Rolex in 2012 as an 8-year-old, and did the dressage there this year, scoring a 51.8. He then withdrew and re-routed to Luhmühlen, where they were seventh together, garnering a 46 on the flat and adding three rails. Phillip has big hopes for this horse, as he’s still quite young, and I think we have yet to see the best of him. He has the ability to be very competitive in the dressage and lovely on cross country, and I think the stadium will come soon. [UPDATE: Mighty Nice has been withdrawn before the first horse inspection.]
Meghan O’Donoghue & Pirate: Definitely an American favorite, Meghan and Pirate embody the story of the underdog OTTB who conquers the world. They stormed onto the scene in 2013 with a 12th place finish at Rolex, scoring a 58 on the flat and adding only four time on cross country and a rail in show jumping. This spring they returned, scoring a 61.8 in dressage, double clean cross country, and two rails in show jumping.
Pirate tries as hard as he can, but his movement in the dressage just won’t measure up against horses that move like Arthur, so he’ll be down a bit after that phase. However, he’s got the heart of a lion, and over a course like this one, it certainly won’t be a dressage competition, and I won’t be the only one rooting for them this week.
Marilyn Little & RF Demeter: Out of the four CCI4*’s that Demi has completed (Rolex twice, Luhmühlen and Pau), she has never scored above a 53.5 on the flat, and has never incurred more than 2.8 cross country time penalties. She has a slightly unreliable record in show jumping at four-stars, with three rails at Kentucky in 2012, only one at Luhmühlen in 2013, four at Pau last fall, but again only one at Kentucky this spring.
They’ve had three top-10 finishes, and one top-20 finish, so that makes them pretty darn reliable. This will be the first Burghley for both Marilyn and Demi, but I think the “goldfish” will be delighted to have this new challenge.
Oliver Townend & Armada: Armada is the definition of a four-star campaigner, having been competing at this level since 2008, with an astonishing TWELVE four-star completions under his belt, five of which were top-10 finishes. He’s gotten better with age too; after moving to Oliver Townend’s barn in 2012, he was eighth at Luhmühlen that spring, followed by a fourth at Burghley in the fall.
This spring they were second at Badminton, in what we will call a “less-than-ideal situation,” where almost nobody made it out alive. This will be his sixth trip around the Burghley cross-country course, and I won’t be surprised if they pull out another top-10 finish.
William Fox-Pitt & Parklane Hawk: It’s no secret that we
worship love WFP here at EN, and it’s with good reason. This guy can ride the hell out of all three phases and is the nicest gentleman to boot, so we just can’t get enough. Parker has an almost impeccable record at the CCI4* level, and I don’t even think we can count his freak fall of rider late in the course at Badminton this spring.
William has described him as a great galloping horse who loves big fences, and if that’s true, Burghley is just up his alley. They won this event in 2011 at Parker’s four-star debut, followed by a win at Rolex the next spring. They’ve been third here the past two years, both times with a 41 on the flat, no more than 2.4 time penalties on cross country and two rails in show jumping. If I had to pick a horse to spoil the Nicholson/Paget battle, this would be him.
William Fox-Pitt & Bay My Hero: William’s second mount is a little less experienced than Parker, but shouldn’t be overshadowed by his stablemate. Moonie completed his first CCI4* at Pau in 2012, coming in fourth place with a 41.7 on the flat and only a rail to add, as well as winning Rolex this spring on his dressage score of 44. He hasn’t seen a Burghley course yet, but with William as a jockey, I think he could be standing in the top ten right alongside his friend Parker.
Nicola Wilson & Beltane Queen: This pair might be less experienced than the rest, but I’m putting them in here on a wish and a gut feeling. They debuted at Badminton this spring, and this lovely paint mare put in a great dressage to score a 43. The actually made it around the cross country, only incurring penalties for knocking a frangible pin, in a bit of a hairy moment. They did not complete however, as the whack from the cross country jump made Maisy a bit sore the next day. I was really impressed with her type though, as well as her grit on the cross country, and I think that they could be a dark horse pair for the weekend.
Piggy French & Jakata: This horse flies a little below the radar, but is definitely a contender here this weekend. They were 16th together at the WEG in Kentucky in 2010, finishing with a rail and 1.6 time to add to their dressage score of 45.8, which is to date the highest score they’ve finished on at this level.
In 2011, they were second at Badminton with a 36 on the flat, and just 9.6 time on cross country to add. The only reason why they are a question together here this weekend is that they haven’t returned to the CCI4* level since that date, but if they continue with their previous results, they should easily be in the top ten here this weekend.
Sarah Bullimore & Reve Du Rouet: I saw this horse at Rolex this spring and was pretty impressed, so they’re making it onto my list of combinations to watch. At only 10 years old, I think we still have lots to see from this horse, but he debuted at this level with a 52.7 on the flat, 8 time on cross country, and a double clean show jumping round. Sarah is a really class rider, and I think she will give this horse a top ride around his first Burghley, perhaps to place just outside the top 10.
Sam Griffiths & Happy Times: Sam is coming off two great CCI4* competitions, winning Badminton this spring with Paulank Brockaugh and then surviving WEG to finish 17th individually. He’s admitted publicly that he’s in the hunt for the elusive Grand Slam, and he thinks that this gelding might have the stuff to bring him one step closer.
They’ve completed seven CCI4* events together and four Burghley Horse Trials. In 2009 they were third, in 2011 they were 16th, in 2012 they were ninth, and last year they were 12th. They have scored between 42 and 48 on the flat, have never had more than 11.2 cross country time penalties, and have had up to four rails in stadium in all of their Burghley performances. Do you think Sam can make it a Grand Slam threat?
Andrew Hoy & Rutherglen: Two-time Burghley winner Andrew Hoy is bringing his 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding to the event this year, which will be this horse’s first Burghley. Fun fact: Andrew won the very first time he ever competed here in 1979.
This horse has completed five CCI4* competitions, including Rolex, Luhmühlen and the Olympics in 2012, and Luhmühlen again in 2013 and 2014, most recently finishing 11th with a 52.7 on the flat and three rails on Sunday. I think they might finish just outside the top 10, but to discount a rider with as much experience as Andrew would be silly. Listen to his thoughts on the competition here.
Andrew Nicholson & Avebury: I think my favorite tweet on Sunday at the WEG went something like this: “I wouldn’t want to be in the Nicholson lorry on the way home today …” That, we can all agree on. Perhaps his disappointing three rails at the WEG on Nereo will put a fiery passion for redemption in Andrew, and he will do the unbelievable and win Burghley three times in a row on the same horse.
Fun facts: This pair are the only partnership to ever win back to back at Burghley, and Andrew has completed Burghley a record 32 times, meaning he has jumped more than 1,500 Burghley cross-country fences.
Jock Paget & Clifton Promise: What a story this would be if Jock were able to return to Burghley, one year after his ill-fated doping scandal, and win it again. I think that would be the ultimate revenge. After proving himself innocent through many months, Jock returned to competition this summer and attempted a return to the CCI4* level at the WEG.
As we all know now, that went awry quite quickly, with a silly runout at fence five. Having no team to speak of, Jock was free to pull up very quickly and re-route to Burghley. This horse is incredibly competitive on the flat, having won Badminton
and Burghley last year on a 39.7 and a 41.1, respectively. I think it’s also fair to say that he’s got a pretty good jumping record. I wouldn’t say no to seeing him redeemed at Burghley this year.
Jonelle Price & The Deputy: Jonelle just rocketed herself onto our collective radars when she zoomed around the WEG like it was a walk in the park, officially making herself the fastest lady at the World Equestrian Games. She’s coming off a fourth place this past weekend, and has another chance to do well with her second horse, The Deputy.
She and “Hero” got a 43.7 in the dressage at Badminton this spring, but were amongst the many to retire on cross-country, re-routing to Luhmühlen, where they finished 16th. They were fifth here last year, and I think they might be well placed to have a repeat performance.
Have you seen the Burghley cross-country course walk yet?