William Fox-Pitt and Parklane Hawk are in the lead after cross-country at Burghley. © Mike Bain
Captain Mark Phillips' cross country challenged the field today, with just 10 of the 78 starters coming home clear and inside time - four of those were Kiwis, with 22 combinations retired, eliminated or withdrawn.
Fox-Pitt, who said Parklane Hawk felt as if he had "grown wings" when launching into space off the precipitous drop at the Leaf Pit (fence 4), commented: "It's a good course for a genuine horse. It was massive all the way, but you never expect a holiday at Burghley."
He warned that jumping is Parklane Hawk's weakest phase, but he cannot afford an error today, for the cost of a single rail covers the first four horses after cross-country.
"I'm going to enjoy the moment because anything could happen tomorrow," he said last night.
New Zealanders Andrew Nicholson, on Avebury, and last year's winner Caroline Powell on the foot-perfect veteran Lenamore are second and third, ahead of HSBC FEI Classics leader Mary King on Kings Temptress.
Fox-Pitt, Nicholson and King, who have eight Burghley victories between them, have two horses apiece in the top 10. All collected a few time penalties on their second horses, who went around as the temperatures warmed up.
Nicholson gave a classic display of committed riding on Avebury, who ran out at the Dairy Mound last year. "He makes it feel easy, but that's when it tends to go wrong," Nicholson reveals. "He can be a bit cute, and I've learned my lesson with him. He likes it if I ride him as if I've stolen him!"
He described the track as a course of two halves, saying you worked hard on the first half and could catch up on the second. "Those were a little bit more old fashioned-style fences. I just need to go out and jump two clear rounds and we'll see what the others do," he said.
He picked up time faults on his other mount Nereo and is sitting if fifth spot.
Andrew Nicholson and Avebury. © Mike Bain
Powell had plenty of praise for 18-year-old Lenamore, who would create history as the first horse to win back to back should he pull it off today.
She contemplated whether it would be his last Burghley but said it would be such a shame.
"He just adores the place. I am just hoping he comes out and jumps well - if it is going to be it will be," Powell said. "I just hope he comes out of the whole competition his cheeky little self."
Also going clean and clear in the cross country was Jonathan Paget on Clifton Lush. Craig Nicolai and Just Ironic made the biggest dash up the field thanks to their clean efforts in the cross country, moving up 45 places into 32nd spot after a forgettable dressage test the day before. And local rider Angus Smales from Rutland jumped 39 places up the leader board with Ballyvooney.
Jonelle Richards on Flintstar, Clarke Johnstone on Incognito III, Mark Todd on Major Milestone and Neil Spratt on Upleadon all went clear but picked up time faults.
Todd admitted he was "slightly niggled" to pick up two time penalties.
"We went a bit too steady at the beginning and I gave myself too much to do at the end of the course," he said.
Among the other good news stories was that of Elizabeth Power (IRL), back in action after sustaining head injuries in a fall at Badminton in April. She is lying sixth on Kilpatrick River after accruing 2.4 time penalties and has her goal of Olympic qualification in sight.
Caroline Powell and Lenamore. © Horsesports Photographic
Tom McEwen (GBR), 20, son of FEI First Vice-President John McEwen, had a debut to remember. He found himself among illustrious company in 10th place on Dry Old Party, a horse purchased from Pippa Funnell.
McEwen, the youngest rider in the field of 80, was one of 10 riders to achieve the 11 minute 40, second optimum time, and is now in line to collect the US$1000 HSBC Training Bursary for the best CCI4* debut.
"It was mega," said McEwen, a member of Britain's gold medal team at the recent FEI European Eventing Championships for Young Riders. "When I got it wrong, my horse got it right. I'm so proud of him. I owe it all to Alex Franklin and Rodney Powell who train me."
Boyd Martin (USA) was also emotional after completing a brilliant round on Neville Bardos. The horse, who only cost US$850 off the racetrack, was recently rescued from a fire at Martin's stables. The pair are lying in 11th place.
"Neville gave me a great round cross country," said Martin. "He was strong and bold throughout the course which is wonderful at this sort of event ... he loves charging at all the big fences. He pulled up with plenty of energy."
The fact 12-year-old Neville Bardos is alive is incredible, and the fact the Australian Thoroughbred just cruised around the biggest cross-country track in the world is not far short of a miracle.
Three months ago he was fighting for his life in a horrific fire at Martin's barn at True Prospect Farm. Neville was the last horse Martin was able to rescue from the flames. He lost six horses and Neville Bardos fought for his life at the New Bolton Center.
He prevailed, overcoming the smoke inhalation that had seared his lungs - the prognosis was tepid, morale was low and Martin took it one day at a time. Neville clearly had other ideas.
"It was a moving time riding him around out there," said Martin. "Initially I wasn't sure where he would end up after the fire. But he was still alive and he seemed all right so we picked this event to focus on. It was a distraction with the all the terrible things that have happened over the summer - with (wife) Silva's and my fathers both dying, and the fire."
It took the sport's entire community to keep Martin and Neville Bardos on track and make the trip, and Neville's recovery possible. He was funded by a Land Rover Competition and Training Grant, a new initiative in 2011 to provide the Land Rover US Eventing Team the chance to test their skills overseas.
Craig Nicolai and Just Ironic. © Horsesports Photographic
Compatriot Sinead Halpin wasn't going to be showed too far up by Martin, and Manoir de Carneville looked very comfortable jumping around their first Burghley CCI4*. The pair are the current Rolex USEF National CCI4* Champions, a title they scored at the 2011 Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in April. Burghley marks only the second CCI4* for the pair in their meteoric rise to the top of the sport.
They added 4.8 time faults to their dressage score, finishing on 50.8 after the two phases, to slip into 12th place behind Martin.
Halpin received the 2011 Jacqueline Mars Training Grant and has spent most of August in the UK this summer working on her game.
Colleen Rutledge made her fist Burghley trip worth the miles from Maryland, with Shiraz. They jumped around confidently, just adding 9.2 faults in a superb effort. They go into the show jumping on a score of 72.9.
Jules Stiller, originally from Vermont but now based in Berkshire, looked poised for a great round on Chapel Amble only to run into some trouble at the Trout Hatchery. They had to do a circle to get out and picked up 20 penalties for the change of plans. They also added 14.4 time faults. Like Halpin and Rutledge, this was their second CCI4*.
It was a disappointing day for US rider Michael Pollard as he and Icarus suffered a fall at the last water jump after setting off on a mission. Pollard broke his wrist and Icarus is being evaluated by US Eventing Team veterinarians. Initial reports indicate no serious injury.
Pollard was named to the 2011 Land Rover US Eventing Team with Schoesgreen Hanni and will represent the US at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in October.
Former world champion Zara Phillips (GBR) was quick to praise her father, Mark Phillips, for his cross-country track. "I said to Dad 'good job'. It was great fun to ride," said Phillips, who is lying 13th after accruing 5.2 time penalties on High Kingdom, the horse that looks likely to bring her back to top level.
Bred in Ireland by William Micklem, Phillips bought High Kingdom as a five-year-old after seeing a picture of him. "He was awesome," she said. "We're not used to such big galloping and jumping tracks as this any more, and I think I rode the island fences terribly! But he had plenty of petrol in the tank and answered all my questions."
Sam Griffiths (AUS), eighth on Happy Times, was first to test Capt Phillips's "retro" course. "It rode big and tough," he confirmed. "My horse is very experienced but there's some big old fences out there. You needed it to go your way to go clear."
Simone Deitermann and Free Easy NRW. © Mike Bain
The 2009 winner Oliver Townend (GBR) had a day to forget, with a fall from Neo du Breuil at the Dairy Mound (fence 19) and retired Imperial Master after he jibbed and reared up in front of the Leaf Pit.
Christopher Burton (AUS) parted company with Holstein Park Leilani at fence 20 and his compatriot Bill Levett with Political Trump at the Waterloo Logs (12). Michael Pollard (USA) suffered a horse fall with Icarus at the new water complex, Anniversary Splash (26).
Francis Whittington (GBR) had an early disappointment when Easy Target missed the narrow brush fence at the Leaf Pit, and world silver medallist Hawley Bennett (CAN) and Gin & Juice ran out at the white-railed corner at the HSBC Maltings (14b).
Fiona Hobby (GBR) retired Roma M.L. after a sticky start, Laurence Hunt (GBR), ninth after Dressage, pulled up Pheobus after a stop at the Dairy Mound, and Blyth Tait (NZL), trying to make a comeback after seven years, retired after two run-outs on Santos.
Captain Mark Phillips, who pronounced himself "pleased, but also relieved" to see 53 clear rounds out of 58 finishers. "I think the reason that few finished with penalties is that if you had a stop early on then this course drained the confidence out of the rider. But in general riders respected the course and it rode well."
Fox-Pitt summed up his work by saying: "It's great to have a day like this for the sport."
Burghley Director Elizabeth Inman was also happy with the outcome of the day. "I came in this morning worried by potential traffic problems (caused by the closure of the A1) but in fact as well as an increase of advanced sales of 30%, the figures on the gate also went up by 4% and I couldn't be more pleased."
Results after Cross-Country
1 William Fox-Pitt/Parklane Hawk (GBR) 39.7 + 0 = 39.7
2 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 42.8 0 = 42.8
3 Caroline Powell/Lenamore (NZL) 42.8 + 0 = 42.8
4 Mary King/Kings Temptress (GBR) 42.2 + 1.2 = 43.4
5 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 42.3 + 2.8 = 45.1
6 Elizabeth Power/Kilpatrick River (IRL) 43.3 + 2.4 = 45.7
7 Mary King/Apache Sauce (GBR) 44.8 + 2 = 46.8
8 Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 45.5 + 1.6 = 47.1
9 William Fox-Pitt/Neuf des Couers (GBR) 45.5 + 3.6 = 49.1
10 Tom McEwen/Dry Old Party (GBR) 49.3 + 0 = 49.3
13 Jonathan Paget (NZL) Clifton Lush 52.7, 0 52.7
16 Jonathan Paget (NZL) Clifton Promise 50.8, 2.4, 53.2
19 Neil Spratt (NZL) Upleadon 49.5, 4.4, 53.9
22 Mark Todd (NZL) Major Milestone 56.5, 2, 58.5
23 Clarke Johnstone (NZL) Incognito III 58.2, 2, 60.2
32 Craig Nicolai (NZL) Just Ironic 67.5, 0, 67.5
33 Jonelle Richards (NZL) Flintstar 64..5, 3.6, 68.1
41 Dan Jocelyn (NZL) Special Advocate 56, 18, 74
57 Caroline Powell (NZL) Mrs Tilly 61, 39.2, 100.2
Blyth Tait (NZL) Santos II retired.