German rider Michael Jung and Brit William Fox-Pitt are leading the way at the end of the dressage phase of this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
The pair go into Saturday’s competition at the top of the leaderboard at the event, taking place in the grounds of Burghley House, near Stamford.
First on after the lunchbreak yesterday (Friday, September 4) with Carol Gee and Catherine Witt’s 11-year-old Fernhill Pimms, Fox-Pitt’s expressive, punchy test earned him a plethora of nines and left him on a final score of 34.2 – exactly the same as Thursday’s leaders.
“I’m delighted with Pimms,” said Fox-Pitt. “It’s his first try at a four-star test and I think that’s one of the best marks I’ve had at this level,” said William, whose only mistake was a bungled flying change, which cost him the outright lead. “He’s always been easy to ride on the flat and he loves showing off; you have to hand it to a horse when they go out into that sort of atmosphere for the first time and rise to the occasion.”
Fox-Pitt, who unusually only has one horse to ride this year, will have to wait until near the end of the cross-country tomorrow for his turn to run.
“I’ll be watching the early riders with interest,” he said. “I think the ground could be a little soft and patchy in places, so it’ll be useful to see how the horses run over it. I think [course-designer] Captain Mark Phillips has been very brave with the course. We [the riders] all think it will be tougher this way round; it’s a serious test for an experienced horse, so Pimms will have to be on his best behaviour and keep jumping through the flags. I’m not expecting him to necessarily be inside the time; I’ll be thrilled with him if he comes home happy and clear.”
Jung, who is currently number one in the world in his sport, is riding at Burghley for the first time this year. On Thursday he proved once again why he is the dominant force in top level competition when he chalked up a score of 34.2 with the 11-year-old mare Fischerrocana FST to leave him more than three penalties ahead of the field.
“It was nearly the very best test we can do,” said Jung at the end of day press conference. “She is more used to doing dressage on a surface than on grass, but the ground here in the arena was very good and had a lot of give and grip, which allowed her to move well.”
Sam Griffiths’ grin as he left the arena on Happy Times on Friday conveyed his delight with the 16-year-old gelding, who is one of the most experienced horses in this field with five Land Rover Burghley completions under his belt, including two third placings. A score of 36.8 leaves the Australian combination in overnight third.
“He’s always been a very consistent horse and today he pulled out all the stops,” said Griffiths.
Another Australian pair, Andrew Hoy and Rutherglen, slipped from second place on Thursday to fourth by the end of Friday, but they kept their noses in front of Oliver Townend on Paul Ridgeon’s great old campaigner, Armada, and New Zealander Tim Price with Ringwood Sky Boy (equal sixth on 38.7).
Saturday’s cross-country test begins at 11am when the trailblazer will be Oliver Townend and the first of his three rides, Dromgurrihy Blue.