The familiar green and white stripes that adorn the stands of the Defender Burghley Horse Trials arena are no stranger to historic moments, and today just happened to be another one of those days. After 58 riders completed the CCI-L 5* event’s dressage test, it’s New Zealand’s Tim Price and Vitali that sit on top of the leader board with the best 5* score since comparable records began back in 1978, of 18.7 penalties.
The 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding is no stranger to the hallowed turf of Burghley House, having finished third here last year, and treated the crowds to a confident and relaxed performance within the white boards of the dressage arena. “I’m here with just one [ride] this year and for this complex character it probably suits him a bit more having more of my attention, ” Tim said of his sole ride of the competition. “He’s very capable of this sort of score, but to do it on the day it’s always difficult, but today was a good day. I felt like i was really rising and not so focused on being perfect in my position but trying to be effective.“
Sitting behind Tim in equal second and third place is Great Britain’s Oliver Townend on two of his three mounts for the weekend. Both former Defender Burghley Horse Trials winner, Ballaghmor Class, and previous ride of New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson, Swallow Springs, sit on a score of 24.2 penalties ahead of tomorrow’s cross country phase. “I’m a big fan of Burghley so it should be fun. I’ve got three very different horses but I’m looking forward to it on all three.”
The seasoned 5* campaigners provided very different pictures in the arena but pleased the FEI Ground Jury equally to finish on exactly the same score. “At this high level, there are some small differences you like more or less and it’s not much that makes the difference in the scores. He [Oliver] has his highlights with both horses at different places in the test, but they were both very good to watch“. Said head of the FEI Ground Jury, Austria’s Christian Steiner.
Lying in overnight fourth on just 1.4 (25.6) penalties behind his fellow Tokyo teammate is Tom McKewen on his evergreen 16-year-old Olympic silver medal winner, Toledo de Kerser. “I was delighted, he was brilliant, I tried a different way of warming up and it did mean that he was a little excited in the halt and the walk, but he was fluent and he put in some lovely changes.” Tom said of his ride, “2019 was the last time he was here, so to have him back at Burghley is exciting, he loved it when he was last here and the [cross country] course should really suit him.”
Derek di Grazia’s cross country track around the undulating grounds of Burghley House will certainly prove a challenge to what is possibly the strongest field the event has seen in the last decade, and riders will be tested along the entire 6.3km course consisting of 29 fences and 48 jumping efforts. “The houses coming home to the water [Boodles Raindance at fence 24 and 25AB], require a bit more of a ride, there’s a lot to do before then but that’s something that’s on my mind.”
Rounding up the top 5 scores is newly-crowned European champion, Ros Canter, with the 14-year-old mare, Pencos Crown Jewel sitting just behind Tom on a score of 26.9. And with only only 8 starters finishing on their dressage score here since Vitali was born it is certainly still all to play for, going into the exciting cross country phase tomorrow.