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September 6, 2004

Andrew Hoy Prevails At A Burghley With A Bit Of A Grim Tone

3 Magic Beans and Nina Fout jumped into 25th place at the Burghley CCI**** with two rails on the final day. Photo by Kerry Crist.
It's been 25 years since Andrew Hoy won his last Burghley CCI****--he won in 1979 with Davey. He celebrated that anniversary today with a win aboard Moon Fleet. "I think I might come back in 25 years and try again," quipped Hoy wryly.
 
Hoy and Moon Fleet came into the show jumping with two rails in hand. After a brilliant cross-country round the day before—the fastest of the day—Hoy had just 48.4 faults to second-placed Andrew Nicholson's 53.4 score aboard Lord Killinghurst. But Nicholson had two rails, dropping him to third, while the popular Marie-Louise "Bumble" Thomas put together one of only nine clean rounds today (out of 43 who show-jumped) to take over second. So, Thomas had a final score of 56.6-a mere 8.2 more than Hoy.
 
Hoy would need every bit of that cushion. Moon Fleet carelessly knocked the top rail of the vertical at the first fence out of the way, much to the crowd's dismay. "That definitely wasn't what I anticipated," said Hoy. "He warmed up very well, but on the way to the first fence, I went to balance him and he put his nose in the air and didn't see the fence till we got there."
 
Another miscommunication on the way to another vertical left Hoy with 8 faults and three more fences to jump. Moon Fleet might have rubbed the rails at all three, but he rubbed them the right way, because they stayed up. Hoy eked out the win by just .2 penalties over Thomas. He also rode Master Monarch, who was third after cross-country, to fourth, with just one rail today. Leslie Law had one rail on Shear H20 to claim fifth, while Polly Stockton picked up a rail to take sixth.
 
John Williams and Sloopy finished in 18th with two rails today-the top American placing. Heidi White collected just one time fault to take 23rd, while Nina Fout had two rails to finish in 25th. Ashley MacVaugh and All's Fair jumped to a 4-fault round to end up 36th, while Linden Wiesman had 8 faults and finished 40th. Kim Morani and Test Run had a nice 4-fault round, but rounded out the field in last in 43rd place.
 
While the festivities carried on, the flags around the arena flew at half mast, and the riders wore black armbands and paraded on foot. The death of Caroline Pratt on course yesterday dampened the mood considerably.
"We as riders are devastated by the tragic loss of Caroline Pratt. She was a most delightful person, a very skillful rider and a positive person who enjoyed her sport and the challenges it posed. Her character will be sadly missed," said Irish rider Eric Smiley.
Pratt suffered fatal injuries when her horse, Primitive Streak, flipped over the C element of the last water complex, fence 26ABC, and landed on her. She had been clean up to that point, and fence judges reported that her horse seemed to be running well and not overly fatigued. Pratt's accident happened as the fourth-to-last rider on course. She'd already ridden Call Again Cavalier to a clean and quick round, and into 17th place. Pratt, 42, was a very popular figure on the English eventing circuit and will be missed keenly.
 
Pratt's accident highlighted the controversy that raged throughout the event about the course. But Smiley, who was the rider representative (the participant elected to voice riders' concerns to the ground jury and technical delegate) for the event, made sure to clarify that the two issues—Pratt's fall and the riders' concerns about the course—were to be considered separate.
A rider's meeting, held this morning before the final show jumping rounds and attended by a vast majority of the riders, held court to a number of issues. The primary concern of most who spoke concerned the lack of response of the ground jury and the technical delegate to the concerns the riders had voiced about the cross-country. After walking the course, designed by Wolfgang Feld, many riders were worried about the length and difficulty of the course, particularly because the weather was unusually hot and humid, and the ground—after a week of rain before—was very deep and holding. The grueling weather and footing conditions made the course-at a maximum length of 12 minutes, 40 seconds and with 28 fences mostly of maximum width and/or spread-all the more taxing. Many riders were concerned that the steeplechase, also at a maximum of four and a half minutes-would contribute to possible horse fatigue and resultant problems.
 
Fence 27ABC, a difficult combination of a narrow picnic table with a spread, with a tight U-turn to another narrow-faced, wide table, followed in three direct strides with a brush picture-frame fence, was a particular worry for some. It was a combination of narrow fences with indefinite groundlines, which required precision, accuracy and power. And it was the next-to-last fence, after 12 minutes of galloping over heavy ground and big fences. There was no alternate route at this fence.
Riders asked the officials to consider an alternate route to the fence, to eliminate the A and B elements, or to shorten the steeplechase phase by 30 seconds to help decrease the fatigue of the horses. The ground jury—Sue Baxter, Jean Mitchell and Guy Otheguy—and technical delegate, Giuseppe Della Chiesa, denied their requests. They did approve a five-minute hold after steeplechase, to help the horses recover, and moved the ropes around 27ABC to allow for a wider turn, but declined to make major alterations.
 
Carl Bouckaert, who acts as the eventing rider's representative to the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), flew in overnight, arriving on Sunday morning to consult and listen to the issues raised. The overwhelming message voiced by the riders was their frustration with the lack of response from the officials to the riders' strong and repeated concerns about the course and conditions. Their concerns seem to have been borne out by the results of Saturday, as only 48 of the 90 starters crossed the finish line. And 21 riders retired on course, while seven were eliminated.
There were many very tired and hot horses in the vet box at the completion of cross-country. While the course was definitively tough, it was the combination of the testing jumps, the undulating terrain, the deep, gluey footing, and the hot and humid weather that created the real problems.
 
Out of the riders' meeting came two tentative suggestions that will undergo further debate before Bouckaert plans to take them to the FEI as rule-change and structure suggestions. One involves the riders' voice. They hope to create an elected group of three riders who will walk the course at each major event and act as a committee—similar to a ground jury—to represent the riders' concerns to the officials of the event. They hope to ensure, through an FEI rule change-that if these concerns are voiced, the officials must act. There is no such rule on the FEI books at the moment. Officials are not required to act on issues raised by the rider representative.
 
Secondly, they hope to ensure that officials have some sort of system of checks and balances, rather than carte blanche control. A means of making them accountable for decisions deemed poor by a majority of riders would be recommended.
It's a shame that the glorious event of Burghley was overshadowed not only by the tragedy of Caroline Pratt's fall, but also by the discontent and controversy that ran as a distinct undercurrent throughout. It's a marvelous event, with huge crowds, wonderful atmosphere, and the definite flavor of one of the world's best venues. I was privileged to have been here, and only wish that I could have reported simply on bold, glorious horses with brave, talented riders. But the sport must continue to evolve, and so changes must be made. It's just unfortunate that they come from such stressful circumstances.
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