Jonathan ‘Jock’ Paget (NZL) and Clifton Promise could be on the brink of making Eventing history after taking over the lead after Dressage at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, final leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™.
The 29-year-old New Zealander has pledged to take all the direct routes on Mark Phillips’s much-respected Cross Country track tomorrow and announced determinedly: “I’m here to win.”
After an outstanding performance, in which he scored his first 10 at CCI4* level, for the halt, Paget heads the first-day Dressage leader Ingrid Klimke (GER) on FRH Butts Abraxxas by just 1.3 penalties.
Paget, who is also in equal fifth place on Clifton Lush, could become the first rider since Ginny Leng (riding Master Craftsman) in 1989 to win Badminton and Burghley in the same season on the same horse.
His Dressage mark of 36.7 is two penalties better than at Badminton, where he was fourth at this stage. “This was a lot better,” said Paget. “He was more consistent.
“I have had to go through him showing tension at some of the smaller competitions, but he’s an experienced horse now and when he comes to something like Burghley, he knows he has to focus.”
Paget has had an extraordinarily consistent career with the 15-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred by Engagement. Last year, the pair were 10th and won team bronze at the London Olympic Games as well as being second at Pau (FRA) behind Andrew Nicholson (NZL) and Nereo, who today slotted into third place on 41.3 after a polished test.
Nicholson, leader of the HSBC FEI Classics™, and Nereo are another experienced combination. They were World bronze medallists in 2010 and second at Burghley in 2011 behind William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and the New Zealand Thoroughbred Parklane Hawk, who are currently just 0.2 of a penalty behind in fourth place.
“Nereo has done all sorts of Cross Country courses all over the world now,” said Nicholson, who is also seventh on Avebury and equal 18th on Calico Joe. “He prefers a galloping course as he takes massive, powerful strides. The undulations are quite difficult for him, but I think he’ll cope.”
Fox-Pitt, who has won Burghley a record six times, leads the British fight back against the Kiwis and Germans who are dominating the event so far. Kristina Cook, who scored two 10s for her halt, is in eighth place on De Novo News, a mare she bred herself out of Douce de Longvaut. The latter was in foal to De Novo News when Cook went clear around Burghley on her in 2003.
Nicola Wilson (GBR) earned perhaps the loudest cheers of the afternoon on the great British team horse Opposition Buzz, and is now in ninth place, 0.4 of a penalty ahead of Oliver Townend on the Spanish-bred Armada, the more excitable full brother of Nereo.
“I am so proud of him,” said Wilson of her sparky black 16-year-old, considered one of the best Cross Country horses in the world – their fall at Luhmühlen in June was their first ever fault in this phase.
“His dressage has come on so well this year and he felt really rideable, which was such a treat. I’m really excited about riding here; we haven’t been here since 2008 [when they were fifth] because we started our team career after that.”
Townend, a winner of Burghley on Carousel Quest in 2009, was equally satisfied with Armada, who has had a tendency to be hot in this phase previously. “He probably takes more time than any other horse on my yard, but I really like riding him and I think we have just about got to grips with him.
“The course here is probably the most difficult in the world, but he has a huge stride, boundless energy and probably twice the power of any of my other horses. If someone suggested I entered him in the Grand National, it wouldn’t concern me.”
Captain Phillips says that the most difficult part of the course is up to the Land Rover Dairy Mound at 19, which comes at the seven-minute marker. This fence is perhaps causing the most discussion among riders: it comprises an uphill triple brush, which will require plenty of impulsion, followed by a bending downhill five-stride distance to another accuracy-testing triple brush.
“This really concludes the most testing section of the course,” commented Phillips. “I think riders will be really disappointed if they make a mistake after that.”
Behind Paget, less than five penalties cover the rest of the top 10, and with a chasing pack of this high quality, and a Cross Country course that is keeping everyone on their toes, he may have to work hard for his first Burghley win.
“Lush is good at turning, but he hasn’t got as big a stride as Promise, who can be strong at the start of the course, and so he may find some of the distances tricky,” said Paget. “If I win Burghley, I will be a very happy man.”
Tomorrow’s Cross Country day, which starts at 11.30am, promises to be a thriller.
Results after Dressage
1 Jock Paget/Clifton Promise (NZL) 36.7
2 Ingrid Klimke/FRH Butts Abraxxas (GER) 39.0
3 Andrew Nicholson/Nereo (NZL) 41.3
4 William Fox-Pitt/Parklane Hawk (GBR) 41.5
5 eq Jock Paget/Clifton Lush (NZL) 42.0
5 eq Andreas Dibowski/FRH Butts Leon (GER) 42.0
7 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 42.3
8 Kristina Cook/De Novo News (GBR) 43.2
9 Nicola Wilson/Opposition Buzz (GBR) 43.3
10 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 43.7
Full results here.