Sinead Halpin and Manoir de Carneville lead the 2012 Burghley CCI4*. FEI Photo.
Sinead Halpin (USA) rode the Cross Country round of her life to give herself a great chance of becoming the first American rider for 19 years to win the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (GBR), finale of the 2011-2012 HSBC FEI Classics™.
There were plenty of unexpected dramas over Mark Phillips’ bold, challenging course, but Halpin presented a picture of perfect harmony on her classy chestnut Selle Francais gelding Manor de Carneville – stable name “Tate” - one of only four horses inside the optimum time of 11 minutes 30 seconds.
Last year’s runners-up, Andrew Nicholson (NZL) and Avebury, added only 0.8 time penalties in an equally brilliant round and moved up two places to be within 5.5 penalties of Halpin.
A nail-biting climax is assured, for Nicholson has no leeway over the current HSBC FEI Classics™ leader William Fox-Pitt (GBR) on Parklane Hawk, and Oliver Townend (GBR) on the New Zealander’s former ride, Armada, who has moved up six places to fourth with nothing to add across the country.
“It was the best round of my life,” said Halpin, who was clearly trying not to get carried away by excitement. “It felt great, but you have to be careful not to get caught up in the feeling or the next thing is that you’re on the ground looking up at your horse!”
However, Fox-Pitt, who said his 2011 winner Parklane Hawk is “made for Burghley”, was full of praise, saying: “I watched Sinead’s round and it was amazing. She set the standard.”
So far, only two US riders have won Burghley in its 51 years: Bruce Davidson in 1974 and Stephen Bradley in 1993.
Only 16 of the 55 finishers achieved time penalties in single figures. Nicholson was masterful on his first ride, the 10-year-old Calico Joe, to come home seven seconds inside the time, and leapt from 42nd to eighth. He commented: “This horse is known for being very fast, but the ground actually rides softer than expected.”
The time factor has dropped Dressage runners-up Allison Springer (USA) and Arthur to seventh, and fourth-placed Kai Ruder (GER) and Le Prince des Bois to 12th, but it has also enabled others to make meteoric rises, most notably Mark Todd (NZL) who shot up from 64th to 15th with a clean sheet on Major Milestone.
Both Fox-Pitt and Townend, the only British riders in the top 10, pulled up their first horses, neither of which were enjoying the holding ground, prompting Fox-Pitt to say: “Shall we have another go later?”
Several other high-profile riders departed the fray too, the highest placed being Clayton Fredericks (AUS), third after Dressage, when Waltersdown Don failed to clear the vast spread at the Cottesmore Leap (fence 21), which is thought to be the biggest fence in the world. The horse fell back into the ditch, sending Fredericks over the brush fence on his own, but neither was hurt.
Riders were most concerned about the new Rolex Combination (16ab, 17), a triple brush to a big corner at a difficult angle followed by another narrow brush, but this generally jumped well and it was two familiar questions that caused the most problems.
Mary King (GBR), eighth after Dressage, was one of many to suffer early disappointment at the Discovery Valley (6, 7) when Kings Temptress failed to make the sharp left-handed turn to the final brush element and King opted to call it a day.
Lucy Jackson (NZL), seventh on Animator ll, also faulted here and Emily Parker (GBR), 19th after Dressage on Treefers, incurred the second of her refusals here and retired.
Oliver Townend (GBR), 20th on ODT Sonas Rovatio, and Paul Tapner (AUS), 12th on Inonothing, both retired after grinding to a halt in the water at the Land Rover Trout Hatchery (10, 11), where Captain Phillips said momentum was needed to get over the combination of hedges in the water. Megan Jones (AUS) came to an abrupt halt at the first element on Kirby Park Allofasudden but went on to complete.
Jonathan Paget (NZL) performed the save of the day here when an awkward jump by Clifton Lush nearly fired him out of the side door, but he managed to stop the horse and haul himself back into the saddle, allowing himself time for a wry smile.
“It was a very close call!” said Paget. “The fence came up quicker than I thought and he didn’t really see it at the last stride. I thought I was going.” The mishap caused Paget to incur two time penalties, but he has risen from 16th to sixth.
Sam Watson (IRL) suffered perhaps the sharpest disappointment. He and Horseware Bushman were in 18th place after Dressage with a score of 47.8 and in good time when they came unstuck two fences from home. Bushman made an awkward jump at the Planets, the striking fence last seen in Greenwich Park for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and then stopped at the narrow Sundial.
Watson’s dejected return contrasted sharply with that of 49-year-old Bettina Hoy (GER), who has only made infrequent visits to Burghley since winning the European title there in 1997. She came home punching the air in excitement after an exemplary display on the inexperienced Lanfranco TSF and is now in 16th place.
“I’m back at four-star!” she exclaimed. “If you have a good round at this level there’s no other feeling like it. Burghley is the biggest course in the world and if you can go well here, you can go anywhere.”
Certainly Burghley lived up to expectations as a Cross Country thriller, and tomorrow’s Jumping, which will reveal not only the winner of the Land Rover Trophy but that of the 2011-12 HSBC FEI Classics™, promises to be every bit as exciting.
Results after Cross Country
1 Sinead Halpin/Manoir de Carneville (USA) 36.3 + 0.0 = 36.3
2 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 41.0 + 0.8 = 41.8
3 William Fox-Pitt/Parklane Hawk (GBR) 41.0 + 2.4 = 43.4
4 Oliver Townend/Armada (GBR) 43.5 + 0.0 = 43.5
5 Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 42.0 + 4.4 = 46.0
6 Jonathan Paget/Clifton Lush (NZL) 46.2 + 2.0 = 48.2
7 Allison Springer/Arthur (USA) 40.0 + 9.2 = 49.2
8 Andrew Nicholson/Calico Joe (NZL) 53.0 + 0.0 = 53.0
9 Caroline Powell/Boston Two Tip (NZL) 44.3 + 9.2 = 53.5
10 Geoff Curran/Shanaclough Crecora (IRL) 52.3 + 2.4 = 54.7
HSBC FEI Classics™ 2012 Leaderboard (after 4 out of 5 events, due to cancellation of Badminton):
1 William Fox-Pitt (GBR) 30
2 Andrew Nicholson (NZL) 24
3 Michael Jung (GER) 15
4 Stuart Tinney (AUS) 15
5 Alison Springer (USA) 12
6 Lucinda Fredericks (AUS) 12
7 Sonja Johnson (AUS) 12
8 Boyd Martin (USA) 10
9 Andreas Dibowski (GER) 10
10 Emma Mason (AUS) 10a