New Zealander Tim Price still leads the field at the Defender Burghley Burghley Horse Trials after a thrilling day's cross-country in which the suspense was maintained right until the very end.
The world number one completed a masterful clear round on Alex and Joe Giannamore's Vitali, but the eight time penalties he incurred has narrowed his lead over Britain’s Oliver Townend going into tomorrow's finale. He is now on a score of 26.7 and does not have a showjumping rail in hand.
Oliver had an eventful day with his three rides: a rein broke just as he was trying to make the sharply angled turn to the log after the Irish Horse Board Bank at fence 17 with Tregilder and he retired Swallow Springs, joint second after dressage, after triggering a MIM safety clip at the oxer on top of the Defender Dairy Mound at fence 20.
However, the best was saved to the end when Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan's Ballaghmor Class delivered one of the outstanding rounds of the day for just 4.8 time penalties. Oliver is now on a two-phase score of 29 and has a showjumping fence in hand over third-placed David Doel.
The optimum time at Burghley — this year 11 minutes 6sec — is famously hard to attain and only two riders managed it this time, David Doel and Wills Oakden, both of whom went early in the day and made it look easy.
David has now leapt 22 places to third with Gill Jonas’s Galileo Nieuwmoed, a 12-year-old Dutch-bred gelding, and Wills, whose aunt Frances Hay-Smith (nee Oakden) was placed at Burghley in the 1990s, has risen 23 places to fourth on Oughterard Cooley, a 13-year-old Irish sport horse.
Irish rider Sam Watson was just one second over and rose a meteoric 31 places to fifth after a bold performance on SAP Talisman.
Harry Meade (Cavalier Crystal), the USA’s Boyd Martin (Tsetserleg TSF) and Pippa Funnell (Majas Hope), a dual winner of Defender Burghley, are in sixth, seventh and eighth places respectively.
“Vitali has shown his class again,” said Tim Price. “He wasn’t as ‘up in front’ of me as he usually is, perhaps due to the lack of a final run at Gatcombe, but he tried very hard and excelled.”
Oliver Townend admitted it had been a day of “bits and bobs”.
“The first two horses think they’ve had a whale of a time — they jogged home after doing seven and eight minutes’ work respectively — but Ballaghmor Class was amazing and a different thing altogether.
“He makes me feel comfortable and calm and he’s definitely not showing his age  - in fact, he was running away with me at the start. He’s my hero and a horse of a lifetime.”
It is a first Defender Burghley for David Doel’s horse Galileo Nieuwmoed, but he has good five-star form with top 10 placings at Badminton and Kentucky to his name.
“He's a lovely galloping horse,” explained David. “This was more of a fiddly course for him as he likes to open out, but he picked up really nicely coming home.”
There were form upsets when European champion Ros Canter, fifth after dressage, was unshipped from Pencos Crown Jewel at the Dairy Mound, Zara Tindall retired Class Affair after a couple of run-outs and Tom McEwen, fourth after dressage, pulled up Toledo De Kerser.
Ten Defender Burghley first-timers completed the cross-country course, the best of whom is Grace Taylor, who is in 16th place on Game Changer.
Vitali has on occasion shown weakness in the final phase, but Tim Price and his wife Jonelle warm up for their eventing season with a few weeks on the showjumping Sunshine Tour in Spain. Oliver commented:
“Tim has a very cool head and can definitely pull it off. He’ll be having a couple of beers and watching Netflix tonight while I'll be a nervous wreck stressing!”
Certainly, a thrilling finale is guaranteed to Defender Burghley 2023. The action starts with the Fairfax & Favor Final Horse Inspection at 9am, followed by a SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse qualifier and the Shetland Pony Grand National.
Don’t miss a thing with Burghley TV, covering everything from the first horse inspection to the final prize giving, plus interviews, feature content and a daily highlights show. Last year’s coverage won brilliant reviews from users; new this year is our “batcam” drone and hat cameras giving a rider’s view of the course.
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