With one rail down, Jock Paget and Clifton Promise won the Land Rover Burghley CCI**** (England) on Sept. 8. Not since 1989, when Ginny Leng and Master Craftsman triumphed at both Land Rover Burghley and the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, has a combination claimed both titles in the same calendar year. This extraordinary feat also sets Paget up for a crack at the Rolex Grand Slam if he can win Rolex Kentucky next spring.
Not one of this afternoon’s top 23 managed to jump clear around Richard Jeffery’s influential show jumping track, including the top five who went before him. This left the Kiwi with a comfortable two-fence cushion as he cantered into the arena on a fresh-looking Clifton Promise. Frances Stead and Russell Hall’s gelding looked like delivering the only clear of the afternoon until he tipped the very last fence, adding 4 penalties to his dressage score of 37.1 to finish on a total of 41.1.
“I knew I had two fences in hand going into the arena,” said Paget. “Promise knows his job and was jumping well in the warm-up, so I drew a lot of confidence from that and was quite calm. If I’d have had two fences down early on you would have seen me kicking and flapping a lot more!
“I have altered a few little things with him this year, since my training with [European, Olympic and World Champion] Michael Jung, and now give him a little more room in front of fences,” he continued. “It’s really only just sinking in that I’ve won Badminton, let alone Burghley, but I know that it’s a very special achievement.”
Clifton Promise is a 15-year-old New Zealand off-the-track Thoroughbred (Engagement—Darn Style, Cautious Style). “He’s an incredible horse and always has been,” said Paget. “He does great dressage, he’s a lion cross-country and doesn’t want to touch a pole in the show jumping! He’s everything you could wish for in an event horse, and he’s tough.”
Paget said he would definitely aim for Rolex Kentucky next spring, and he’s in the unique position of trying to win the Grand Slam using the same horse for all three legs.
Paget’s second-placed ride after cross-country, Clifton Lush, had a bruised fetlock on Sunday morning and wasn’t presented at the horse inspection.
One of Paget’s chief mentors, Andrew Nicholson, finished second, third and eighth—another record—in a Kiwi whitewash. “I brought three horses and I still can’t beat him,” the 52-year-old Nicholson joked about his former protégé. “When Jock first came to me, in 2009, he may have looked like a monkey up a pole, but I still thought he had a lot of natural talent. What was most important was that he wanted to learn; he was always running around watching the top riders, like William Fox-Pitt and Pippa Funnell, and that’s how you become successful yourself, by looking and learning.”
Nicholson finished second and third on last year’s winner Avebury and Nereo respectively. Both lowered a pole apiece.
“I thought the show jumping track was fair,” he said. “The oxers were perhaps a little bit higher and wider than usual, so I knew it would take a bit of jumping.
“Avebury was just a bit casual,” he continued. “He’s normally a very big gate jumper, and perhaps I was a bit casual too. But, I wouldn’t have it won it anyway—I think if I had gone clear then Jock would have jumped the last clear because he knew he could have the last down and pretty much just let that happen. It’s a great achievement and what a fabulous horse. He’s trained it himself—it hasn’t been one that someone else produced—he got it off the racetrack when it was young, and he’s had a lot of faith in him, and it’s rewarded him.”
But although he lost his Burghley crown, Nicholson gained plenty of compensation in the form of winning the HSBC FEI Classics series, worth $150,000 to the winner, which came to its conclusion here.
“To have Avebury win last year and come back and be second this year; and Nereo finish third at Badminton and third here, is very pleasing as it means they’ve been very consistent—and it’s consistency that wins big competitions,” he said.
William Fox-Pitt was best of the Brits with Parklane Hawk, lying fourth overnight. They held their position despite rolling two rails.
“I think he was still in too much of a forward gear after cross-country,” said Fox-Pitt, who finished second in the HSBC FEI Classics. “But Jock’s achievement is fantastic, and I hope he enjoys the moment. This has been a brilliant competition; it was a proper four-star, and the cross-country and the optimum time had exactly the right influence.”
Germany’s Ingrid Klimke and FRH Butts Abraxxas lowered one rail to rise up from seventh to fifth, while Jonelle Richards and The Deputy completed the New Zealand domination in sixth.
Canadian rider Rebecca Howard continued her path up the leaderboard, finishing with one rail down on Riddle Master to take 12th place.