This year, for the first time in the 29-year history of the Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse final, the top contenders were put through their paces by a celebrity judge.
Ian Stark had the honour of being the first to get the leg-up and he rode the top four contenders in the four- and five-year-old finals.
“It’s been a fascinating day for me,” said Ian. “I knew right from the beginning that what I was looking for was a horse that would put a smile on my face and two of the five-year-olds did and all four of the four-year-olds were just amazing. It bodes very well for the future of the sport. In fact, I think I’ll be sending my youngsters to these riders!”
Interestingly, Ian’s assessment had the desired effect of shuffling the final order in both line-ups.
“I watched the five-year-olds walk, trot and canter and picked out my favourite. But then when I rode them I swapped allegiance to another horse [the eventual winner, For Certain, ridden by J-P Sheffield] because it was light and bright and it gave me a very special ride.”
Ian saved his top mark of the day – eight out of a possible eight marks – for the eventual runner-up in the four-year-old final, Shannondale Nadia, ridden by Ros Canter.
“She was particularly light on her feet,” said Ian. “The four-year-olds all felt a little bit tired at the end of a long day, but interestingly the riders felt they perked up when they had a different rider on board as it was something new for them.
“It’s all about encouraging people to train their horses correctly right from the word go. We’re not looking for a clockwork mouse, we’re looking for something that’s got a bit of character, a bit of naughtiness and a bit of sparkle; something that’s got the lightness, movement and suppleness to go on.”
Of his new assignment this year, Ian concluded: “Maybe next year they’ll let me jump them as well! I was longing to do that, but everyone had a heart attack when I mentioned it!
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed riding these lovely horses, though, and feel very privileged to be here and be the first jockey to be given this important job.”