When a rather gammy-kneed Sarah Bullimore posted a 22.5 with her tiny homebred Corouet yesterday afternoon, she threw down a gauntlet that could well have been unsurpassable — but today’s dressage got started with a serious bang as Tim Price, the first rider of the day, stormed straight into the lead with his Tokyo mount, Vitali. Their score of 21.3 becomes the third test this week to go into the top five all-time tests at this venue — but although the elegant gelding is always a serious contender on the flat, a great performance in an atmosphere as close and intense as Burghley’s isn’t always guaranteed with this horse. Today, though, he met the crowds confidently, delivering some of the best work we’ve seen from him, and earning Tim his best-ever five-star score in the process.
“He was great — he was very rideable in there,” says Tim. “To be fair to him, he’s a funny horse: when he goes into black horse mode, which is when he sort of loses focus, it’s there right through the session with him, and right through the warm-up. But normally, when he warms up like [he did today], he goes in and delivers, so I’m glad he did that here with such a big stage to put him off his game, but it didn’t. He stayed with me and was on his game, and it was good fun.”
Much of the top ten remained unchanged this morning, with second, third, and fourth places currently held by yesterday’s one-two-three of Sarah, Piggy March and Vanir Kamira, and Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On, respectively. But a sweet test from Oliver Townend‘s first ride, the twelve-year-old Tregilder, earned them a 27.5 that allowed them to slide into provisional fifth place. For Oliver, who debuted Tregilder at the level in last year’s Bicton replacement for Burghley, it’s a particularly good pay-off for the horse’s owners, who have been among his most stalwart supporters.
“I’m very proud to have him here,” says Oliver. “He’s been with us since he was four years old, so we’ve been through a lot together, and I’m happy to have him here for the Hazeldene family, who’ve been with me for over fifteen years. It’s been a long road of very loyal support by them to get the horse to this level, so it’s special.”
Oliver, who has previously won Burghley on two occasions, has always been a vocal supporter of Kentucky’s CCI5* and its designer, Derek di Grazia, who takes the reins here for the first time with a new-look, technical track — and one that Oliver himself is excited to get stuck into with his two rides.
“It’s obviously still got the undulations, and I’m a huge fan of Derek di Grazia — I’ve had plenty of nice experience around his courses in Kentucky,” he says. “I have 100% trust in him as a designer; there’s no tricks or hidden agendas, it’s there to be jumped. It’s a very fair course, but it is huge, and it’s a seriously technical test — plus the undulations, plus you’re against the clock. It’s going to be tough.”
23-year-old Bubby Upton has had a few real ‘nearly’ moments at this level this year, including leading the dressage at Luhmühlen with Cannavaro, but her first Burghley with Cola — and her second CCI5* since graduating from Edinburgh University — has got off to an exciting start, with a 28.3 on the board and a provisional sixth-place standing.
“I wanted to be sub-30, and he was, so I’m really pleased with him,” says Bubby. “There’s still so much more to come, which is so exciting. Like, the right to left flying change is still iffy, but he’s got so much potential. That sounds strange to say about a twelve-year-old, that there’s more to come, but hopefully next year, we’ll see the best of him!”
We last saw Cola, with whom Bubby twice rode at the Young Rider European Championships, at this level back in May, when he contested Badminton — but there, he went flat in the ring, scoring an uncharacteristically high 36 as a result. Today, Bubby opted to shave her warm-up right down, hoping that a soupçon of freshness might solve the issue.
“I think we hit the nail on the head [today], to be honest. He did a really good test at the start of the year at Oasby, and I haven’t been able to get that since; I overworked him at Badminton, because I thought he’d go in and the crowds would lift him, but he couldn’t give a flying monkey’s about the crowds. So today, I said to my trainer, Amy Woodhead, that we were going to have to risk it. We did fifteen minutes in here and then went in, and he was spot on.”
It’s partly due to dressage rider Amy’s influence that Bubby has been able to revolutionise her approach to this phase, particularly after logging some serious miles in the saddle of several of the rider’s upper-level dressage horses.
“Amy’s been great and has really taken me under her wing and let me ride some amazing horses,” says Bubby. “It just makes a huge difference riding those dressage horses, because it makes you realise how much work you’ve got to do to get [the eventers] to that place. I’ve been able to play around with four, three, and two-time changes, and her horses are just so sharp off your aids that you then get on your own horse and expect the same.”
That’s paid dividends, particularly with Cola, who isn’t necessarily built to find this phase easy.
“It’s helped me to get him way more in front of the leg, because actually, he can only really give a maximum of like, twenty minutes,” says Bubby. “He gets really tired, because he’s actually a really long horse — although he doesn’t really look it because most people only see him when he looks pretty in the ring! But he does find it hard to stay short and compact, so it’s made me get him way more fired up. I’ve learned not to be afraid of them being hot. I’m learning to like that.”
It’s been a good day to be a young up-and-coming superstar, and Bubby was joined in the top ten by Ireland’s excellent Susie Berry, who posted a 29.3 for eighth with the former Jonty Evans ride Ringwood LB.
“I’m over the moon with him, to be honest,” she says. “There’s way more to come; he’s a really flash horse and so naturally, out of any of my string, he’d be the one that would find dressage the easiest, but sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion.”
That mixture of a tendency towards laziness and the occasional bolt of sharpness makes ‘Alby’ much less straightforward to ride than he might appear from the outset — but he comes into his own in long-format events, particularly when there’s a buzz about the place.
“He was actually spooking a bit at the clapping and everything, but as soon as I have him into canter and concentrating he really does [cope well]. He’s done a lot of four-stars, so he’s seen a lot of atmosphere, and I do think he grows with the atmosphere. Doing one-day events with him is sometimes a bit of a pain, to be honest — I have to do a lot of kicking and flapping to stay on track! But a little bit of a crowd and atmosphere brings him to life.”
Susie, who made her five-star debut at Badminton this year with John the Bull, and who’ll ride Monbeg by Design at next month’s World Championships, has found her first experiences of Burghley slightly daunting so far.
“The first time I walked [the course] I was like, ‘no, I’m just going to go home; this is ridiculous!’ But when I walked it yesterday with a clear mind, I thought we could give it a good go. But it’s definitely very different than any course I’ve done before,” she says.
We’ve got one session of dressage left to go, with thirteen combinations lined up to try to usurp those at the top end of the board from 13.45 p.m. BST/8.45 a.m. EST. Want to try to catch the highlights? Here are our picks of the bunch:
- Kitty King and Vendredi Biats – 14.25 p.m. BST/9.25 a.m. EST
- Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel – 15.05 p.m. BST/10.05 a.m. EST
- Tom McEwen and CHF Cooliser – 15.29 p.m. BST/10.29 a.m. EST
- Tim Price and Polystar I – 15.37 p.m. BST/10.37 a.m. EST
- Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs – 15.45 p.m. BST/10.45 a.m. EST
We’ll be back with a full end-of-day report — plus, an in-depth look at tomorrow’s cross-country challenge. Until then: Go Eventing!