Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2019
By Stephanie DeWitt Photography Julian Portch @lrbht_official
Well, what a nail-biting finish to this year's Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials! Having last won here in 2003 on PRIMMORE'S PRIDE, Pippa Funnell riding Jonathan and Jane Clarke's MGH GRAFTON STREET, known as SQUIRREL at home, was triumphant again!
At the end of the first day's dressage the lead was held by Burghley first-timer Eliza Stoddart riding Anne and Bruce Staley's 11 year-old PRIORSPARK OPPOSITION FREE on a score of 28.7, less than a point ahead of second-placed Sarah Bullimore (RÊVE DU ROUET) and last year's winner Tim Price from New Zealand (BANGO), equal with 29.6.
The American contingent dominated Friday morning with Sussex-based Liz Halliday-Sharp and DENIRO Z scoring 28.4 early on; by mid-morning they had been overtaken by Hannah-Sue Burnett on HARBOUR PILOT (26.9). Last to ride before lunch, Britain's Piggy French on Trevor Dickens' VANIR KAMIRA equalled the latter's score to become joint leader.
By mid-afternoon America was back in contention with Lauren Kieffer and VERMICULUS shaving another 0.2 points off the top score. But the last session of the day produced the top three, all representing Britain, at the end of the dressage phase: Izzy Taylor and SPRINGPOWER (25.6) in third place, Oliver Townend and BALLAGHMOR CLASS (25.3), winners in 2017, second, with Pippa Funnell and the relatively green MGH GRAFTON STREET (22.8) in the lead.
"This horse has always schooled well on the flat," said Pippa. "I felt that this was our personal best. I've walked the course with Tina (Cooke) and there are some seriously big fences. I'll have to concentrate from beginning to end, riding accurately at the top of my game. The horse is a bit cheeky but has plenty of ability. I've got to go out there and be brave. You have to ride with conviction to help the horse."
And Tina's advice to Pippa? "Kick on!"
Sixty-seven horses were listed to take part in the cross-country phase; three were withdrawn after dressage. Only thirty-three horse and rider combinations completed, less than half the field. Eleven competitors retired on the course, twenty were eliminated for varying reasons. But, as course designer Mark Phillips pointed out, not a single horse or rider was injured. This he put down to the use of frangible pins on fences, a technology which is still evolving.
Oliver Townend and BALLAGHMOR CLASS moved down a place, jumping clear but incurring two time penalties. Jumping clear within the time, the only rider to do so, Piggy French and VANIR KAMIRA moved up from equal fifth to second place on their dressage score of 26.9. And, despite adding four time penalties, Pippa Funnell and MGH GRAFTON STREET maintained their lead, but only 0.1 points ahead of Piggy and her horse.
"I thought the track was a whopper!" said Pippa. "I had to stay focused, brave and committed. This was SQUIRREL'S first time, so I had to stay with what I was feeling. The horse is not very experienced so I had to put my brave pants on! The course jumped every bit as big as it looked."
Pippa's hat silk came loose, flapped for a bit then finally fell off.
"Perhaps it's an omen," she said. The same thing happened when I won on PRIMMORE'S PRIDE. I went round the course looking like an egg-head! I've had that silk for thirty years!"
Going into the showjumping phase, now with only thirty-one participants, the top three were already more than ten points ahead of the rest of the field.
With others lowering poles, Sarah Bullimore and RÊVE DU ROUET moved up to fourth with 39.6 penalties, having jumped clear. Oliver and his mount commenced their showjumping round but took down an early pole at fence two, cleared the rest of the course and finished on a score of 31.3.
"I didn't feel him touch it or hear the clunk as it fell," said Oliver. "I just heard the crowd groan!"
Piggy French and VANIR KAMIRA hit the first fence but held their nerve to leave all the other obstacles intact, exiting the arena with only the four showjumping penalties added to their dressage score of 26.9.
"My horse is not the most natural showjumper," said Piggy. "She put her heart on the line yesterday. I'm very proud of her and lucky to have her."
And so, Pippa, having been surprised by husband William arriving unexpectedly from jumping abroad to walk the course with her, entered the ring with one fence in hand. All went well until fence eight where SQUIRREL appeared to skid and take off too early, taking the top pole with his knees. They recovered well, looked a bit sticky down the treble, and finished with four faults, remaining just 0.1 points ahead of Piggy to take the title, surely the closest result ever.
"It wasn't my prettiest round," said Pippa. "Full credit must go to the horse. I didn't think there'd ever be another big one; the last two weeks have been surreal. This means I'll carry on eventing. It's been an incredible journey and I hope it inspires other riders."
Having been champion at Burghley five times it was fitting that Sir Mark Todd rode NZB CAMPINO, the horse on which he won Team Bronze at the London 2012 Olympics and on which he rode his last three-day event at Burghley 2018, into the arena to be met by Sophie, Countess of Wessex on the (second!) occasion of his retirement from eventing. After an emotional speech he cantered round the ring to a standing ovation. As Clare Balding said, "There'll only ever be one Sir Mark Todd!"
Sir Mark Todd - Burghley Winners
1987 - WILTON FAIR
(2nd on CHARISMA)
1990 - FACE THE MUSIC
1991 - WELTON GREYLAG
1997 - BROADCAST NEWS (European Open Winner)
1999 - DIAMOND HALL RED
PS Pippa did get her hat silk back! It was returned to her complete with a leaf stuck to it, which she says she will keep as a souvenir!