Having conquered the rest of the world, Germany’s Michael Jung looks set to add the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials to his ever-growing collection of titles – but not with the horse everyone had expected.
A dramatic day, which began with Michael crashing out on his first ride before he ever really got going, ended with him delivering a masterful round aboard his beloved, multi-medal-winning partner, La Biosthetique-Sam FBW, to rise from seventh place after the dressage into the top spot.
Visibly limping after he fell with his dressage joint-leader, Fischerrocana FST, at the Lion Bridge (fence 4), Michael returned several hours later with a strapped up leg and a doggedly determined look on his face. A clear round just two seconds over the optimum time left him and Sam on a finishing score of 40, giving them 1.5 penalties in hand going into tomorrow’s show jumping phase.
“My first round with Fischerrocana was very quick – just 40 seconds,” joked Michael. “The fences were good until then – all three of them!”
Of his rather smoother second round, he added: “Sam and I have had many experiences together and he gave me a good feeling around a tough track. I was a little bit down on the clock coming up the hill [Winners’ Avenue], but he was pulling and jumping and we managed to make it up.”
New Zealand’s power couple Tim and Jonelle Price also scaled the leaderboard with two brilliant performances across the country.
Tim’s round on Ringwood Sky Boy was clear and classy despite the 36-year-old being hampered by a wasp that inconveniently flew down his top somewhere near Discovery Valley (fence 24).
“I could feel a prickling sensation as I was going along and I tried to get rid of it,” he explained. “I felt it again as I jumped off at the end, and when I lifted up my top a wasp flew out!”
Tim’s 2.8 time penalties leave him on a score of 41.5, less than a fence behind the overnight leaders.
His wife Jonelle is further 3.4 penalties in arrears. She shot up the leaderboard from 19th after the dressage thanks to one of only two rounds inside the time on Classic Moet.
“She’s a very fast mare – I just have to make sure I keep up with her,” she smiled.
Course-designer Captain Mark Phillips admitted that he had intended there to be “two or three” inside the time – and so it proved, with another Antipodean, Christopher Burton, being the only other rider to beat the clock on the thoroughbred TS Jamaimo.
“He often starts out a little hesitantly, but today he raced out of the start box and felt really up for it and positive over the first few fences, so I thought I ought to give it a crack,” said Christopher, who has a double hand at the top of the leaderboard with his other ride Haruzac lying in fifth.
Australia and New Zealand also occupy the next two spots with Bill Levett (Improvise) and Mark Todd (Leonidas II) lying in sixth and seventh. Frenchman Cedric Lyard (Cadeau De Roi) sits in eighth, while the best-placed British rider at this stage is Oliver Townend on his first of three rides, Dromgurrihy Blue.
It was not a day to remember for Britain’s top riders. Oliver, who was last out on course on Armada, was the only one who could have toppled Michael off the top of the leaderboard. The pair seemed to be delivering their customary accomplished performance until the enigmatic gelding slipped round the side of the angled brush coming out of the Trout Hatchery (fence 21).
William Fox-Pitt, who had shared the overnight lead with Michael coming into cross-country day, had the misfortune of being stopped on course at the fence before the influential Discovery Valley while a cosmetic fence repair was carried out. Once restarted, he decided to steer Fernhill Pimms around the long route rather than take on the Land Rover bonnets, but forgot to jump the ‘C’ element and had to retrace his steps, losing valuable time.
“I failed to get my brain back in gear,” admitted a resolute William, whose dropped to 13th.
There were 42 clear rounds in all and only 13 combinations walked home – statistics that pleased Captain Phillips.
“They are good percentages for a course of this size; I’m a very happy and relieved man tonight,” he said.