Rain doesn’t stop Australian rider Christopher Burton from wowing the crowds in first victory at Burghley Horse Trials

Burghley Horse Trials day three Cross Country. Rider Oliver Townend EMN-160409-094249009
Burghley Horse Trials day three Cross Country. Rider Oliver Townend EMN-160409-094249009
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The heavens might have opened on Saturday but the top riders still shone through at this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

The four-day renowned event got underway on Thursday and Friday with two days of dressage in bright sunshine but on Saturday - the most popular day of the trials when the cross country takes place - the weather was not so nice and on the gate numbers were lower than last year.

But thankfully, the rain stayed away on the fourth and final day on Sunday - just in time for first time winner Christopher Burton to take the title, despite lowering four fences in the final showjumping phase.

And the crowds who braved the grey clouds on Sunday were in for another treat when Nick Skelton, fresh from his gold medal win at the Rio Olympics, paid a visit to the main arena just before the prizegiving to say hello and to sign autographs.

Previous Burghley competitor Zara Tindall also braved the rain on Saturday to judge a picnic competition - and happily had selfies taken with visitors.

And some of the riders from the World Championships in 1966 also celebrated their 50th anniversary by taking a tour of the grounds - much to the delight of the crowds.

Burghley Horse Trials director Elizabeth Inman said it was once again another fantastic event, with thousands of people enjoying not just the spectacular equestrian eventing but the hundreds of trade stands scattered throughout the grounds of Burghley House.

Liz said: “We started with the most glorious weather on Thursday and Friday and the showground looked absolutely magical.

“But sadly, we had weather we could have done without on Saturday - but that what eventing is all about and the good riders were able to come through despite the weather. We had a fantastic young rider winning the event for the first time, which was a joy to see, and it was absolutely amazing to see Andrew Nicholson coming back from a really horrific injury to do so well. Andrew is extremely popular here with the crowds at Burghley and personally, I was delighted for him.”

In taking the title, Christopher, 34, became the first Australian rider to win Burghley for more than a decade and also ticked an important personal box of scoring his first four-star win on British soil. His superiority in the first two phases meant he had four rails in hand as he went into the showjumping phase on Sue Lawson and Carolyn Townsend’s Nobilis 18.

He joked: “I thought I’d keep it interesting for everyone by making it as close as possible,” before adding more seriously: “He’s basically a careful showjumper and he warmed up well, but in the end he got a bit tired and had a few down.

“On Wednesday morning I walked along Winners’ Avenue looking at all the plaques with the names of all the old boys on them. I thought then how good it would be to add my name to the line.”

New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson had been hoping for a fairytale result. Not only is he the only rider ever to have won the event three times in a row but in 2015 he suffered a fall resulting in a serious neck injury which causes paralysis in 98 per cent of cases. Following a remarkable recovery, Burghley was Andrew’s first four-star event since the accident.

But he had to settle for second place - and one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon, proving his popularity with the crowds. He finished a little over three marks behind the winner.

Andrew said of his horse Nereo: “I’m very proud of him. He’s getting on a bit and this is one of the few cross-country courses he doesn’t really enjoy going around because of the hills. But he does what he’s got to do whether he enjoys it or not – that’s the sort of horse he is.”

Continuing the Antipodean theme, New Zealander Jonelle Price and the brilliant mare Classic Moet took third spot after benefiting from her husband Tim’s misfortune when he lowered three fences and dropped to fourth with Ringwood Sky Boy.

Oliver Townend, in seventh, was the best placed of the British riders.

Overall, Liz said the event was fantastic with traders reporting bumper sales.

She added: “We had amazing advance ticket sales but maybe some people didn’t come on the Saturday which is always a little disappointing. Gate sales on Saturday were also slightly down but we still had huge crowds and were into the overspill car park by 10am - and it was more than made up for on the other days.

“Every year Burghley is just such a fantastic event and this year was of course no different.”

Next year’s event will take place from August 31 to September 3, 2017.