Australian eventer Sam Griffiths is the only rider with a shot at Grand Slam glory this season and he believes there is every chance he can take another step towards the most difficult triple in three-day eventing at this weekend’s four-star Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
In winning the Badminton Horse Trials back in May on Paulank Brockagh, Griffiths took the first of three steps on the path to the Grand Slam, with Burghley and the Kentucky Horse Trials next on the list.
Only one rider has ever won all three titles in a season since it was introduced back in 1999, Britain’s Pippa Funnell back in 2003.
But Griffiths believes that in his horse Happy Times he has what it takes to claim back-to-back major victories.
“To win the most recent Badminton was an absolutely thrill for me, I have done the Olympics and World Championships but that was special,” he said.
“Burghley is a riders’ event. Badminton may have the history and prestige but Burghley is the one all the riders love to go to. It has been voted the best three-day event for quite a few years running now and that is no surprise.
“It is a tough cross-country course as the terrain makes things quite difficult but it is a magnificent setting and there is fierce competition. The jumps are usually enormous so we are always a bit nervous the first time we walk that course, but we know it is a real challenge and it is one of the biggest events in the world and a real major for us to win.
“You do feel the pressure, you put months and months of work on the line, but I would love to win Burghley.
“It would be the second leg of our eventing Grand Slam and that is something everyone dreams about.
“I have a very good horse called Happy Times who is in great form and I really quite fancy my chances. He is an experienced horse and has done it a number of times and come third in the past so to win and do it after Badminton would make it even better.”
But Griffiths won’t be the only rider from Down Under keen on bagging Burghley. New Zealand’s Jonathan Paget, who last year rode Clifton Promise to win the four-star event, only to be stripped of the title after his horse was found to have a banned substance in his system, the result of accidental contamination by a supplement manufacturer. Paget rode Promise at last weekend’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France, but pulled out of the competition after an early run-out on the course.
“When something like that happens early, there’s really no point in putting 10 minutes of hard yakka on his legs, and I had entered Burghley just in case something stupid happened … and it did,” Paget said.
Paget will be joined by his WEG team-mates, Andrew Nicholson, and Jonelle and Tim Price. The Kiwi contingent also includes Megan Heath (St Daniel), Neil Spratt (Upleadon) and Craig Nicolai (Just Ironic).
Nicholson will be keen to put a disappointing WEG behind him, and if he can finish in front and bag the £62,000 prize at Burghley on Avebury, it will be his third successive win on the horse there.
“That’s the goal,” says Nicholson, who will also be launching his book Focused at the event.
Jonelle Price is to ride The Deputy, while Tim Price rides Ringwood Sky Boy.
Kiwis have a fine history at Burghley, with Nicholson having four titles to his credit, and WEG team-mate Mark Todd five, Blyth Tait two, and Caroline Powell one.
Among the 76 combinations are many riders fresh from WEG, from the US, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Canada, France and Belgium.
Burghley event director Elizabeth Inman says the standard of entries this year is as high as ever.
“We look forward to welcoming some if not all of the World Equestrian Games medallists to Lincolnshire. As always Mark Philips’ cross country course will provide riders and horses with a true four star challenge and with Andrew Nicholson and Avebury aiming for an as yet unachieved treble, and Sam Griffiths focusing on the elusive Rolex Grand Slam there is all to play for.”
The first horse inspection is on Wednesday, followed by two days of dressage, the cross country and showjumping on Sunday.
Reporting: Ryan Walters, Diana Dobson