In an extraordinary finale to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR), the evergreen New Zealander Andrew Nicholson seized his third victory in 17 years at this popular venue while William Fox-Pitt’s third place was good enough – by just one point – to win him a third HSBC FEI Classics™ title.
Fox-Pitt (GBR), riding Parklane Hawk, had two fences down and Nicholson (on Avebury) one on an influential Jumping track. Between them, they handed the overnight leader Sinead Halpin (USA) a two-fence margin, but to the disbelief of the crowds in the packed stands, the ever-smiling American, who has won many admirers in Britain this week, hit three rails on Manoir de Carneville and finished second.
“It’s a few years since I’ve won a CCI4*, but it just shows you have to keep going in this sport,” said an overwhelmed Nicholson, 51. “I’ve had Avebury since he was a foal and there have been days when he’s let me down and days when he probably thought I let him down, so this is very satisfying.”
The HSBC FEI Classics™, which links the world’s six CCI4*s, went right to the wire as well, with Fox-Pitt clinching the US$150,000 first prize by a single point in the closest finish since the series began in 2008. If he had hit another fence, Nicholson, who was third in 2011, would have become the first non-British rider to win.
“That was close!” said a relieved Fox-Pitt afterwards. “I knew Andrew was on fantastic form and to win by one point was nerve-racking.”
Fox-Pitt’s two CCI4* victories, at Pau in 2011 and Kentucky in April this year, put him in pole position, but he admitted that he wondered if missing Luhmühlen was going to prove to be a mistake.
“It was too close for comfort, but I’m lucky to have had such a good horse as Parklane Hawk here at Burghley,” he said. “The HSBC FEI Classics™ is a great series and much appreciated by riders.”
Halpin was gracious in defeat. “My horse warmed up beautifully but he was possibly a little bit tired. It was disappointing, but I’m really proud of him. I haven’t done as much as these guys [Nicholson and Fox-Pitt] but I will be back, again and again and again!”
Tension mounted as the last riders jumped, as there had only been five clears from the 53 finishers in the competition, the most troublesome fence being the upright red postbox at 11, which also proved difficult when it was used at the London Olympic Games last month.
Allison Springer (USA), the runner-up in Kentucky, had two rails down with Arthur but her final sixth place was still good enough to move her into third place in the HSBC FEI Classics ahead of Luhmühlen winner Michael Jung (GER) and Adelaide 2011 winner Stuart Tinney (AUS). In a fitting finale, Springer joined those great horsemen Nicholson and Fox-Pitt on the podium in front of a cheering crowd at Burghley.
The 12-year-old Avebury, by the Irish Draught sire Jumbo, belongs to Nicholson’s long-time owner Rosemary Barlow, who is well known for organising international supporters’ pavilions at championships, including at Greenwich last month, but who has never had a CCI4* winner in 30 years of event horse ownership.
The horse, which Nicholson sold to a Jumping yard as a four-year-old and then bought back two years later, was first evented by his partner Wiggy Channer until Nicholson ‘stole him back’. The handsome grey gelding has won at all levels and was eighth at Burghley in 2011. He moves and jumps beautifully, but has a cheeky nature and needs to be kept in check when the pressure is on. There is no finer horseman than Nicholson in that situation.
HSBC Training Bursary winner
Lucy Jackson (NZL), who was first reserve for the New Zealand Olympic team, achieved her first CCI4* completion at Burghley, with two horses, and was awarded the HSBC Training Bursary worth US$1,000. She finished 19th on Willy Do after adding 20.8 Cross Country time penalties and six Jumping penalties to her Dressage score of 58.2. She also lay seventh after Dressage on Animator ll, but had a Cross Country stop and dropped to eventual 41st.
Jackson, who was a member of the winning New Zealand team at the Asia-Pacific Olympic qualifying competition at Blenheim (GBR) last year, has been based in Britain for many years, where she has been trained by Gill Watson, long-time trainer of Britain’s under-21 teams. Jackson is also a qualified physiotherapist. Her previous best result was eighth at Bramham CCI3* (GBR) on Willy Do and eighth at Ballindenisk (IRL) on Animator ll this year.
1 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 41.0 + 0.8 + 4 = 45.8
2 Sinead Halpin/Manoir de Carneville (USA) 36.3 + 0.0 + 12 = 48.3
3 William Fox-Pitt/Parklane Hawk (GBR) 41.0 + 2.4 + 8 = 51.4
4 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 43.5 + 0.0 + 8 = 51.5
5 Jonathan Paget/Clifton Lush (NZL) 46.2 + 2.0 + 4 = 52.2
6 Allison Springer/Arthur (USA) 40.0 + 9.2 + 8 = 57.2
7 Izzy Taylor/Briarlands Matilda (GBR) 50.5 + 6.8 + 4 = 61.3
8 Kai Ruder/Le Prince des Bois (GER) 41.0 + 17.2 + 4 = 57.2
9 Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 42.0 + 4.4 + 16 = 63.0
10 Bettina Hoy/Lanfranco TSF (GER) 49.0 + 14.0 + 0 = 63.0
Full results on www.burghley-horse.co.uk