Last May all eyes were on Great Britain’s William Fox-Pitt and New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson as they battled for the Rolex Eventing Grand Slam at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** (England).
But it was Kiwi rider Jock Paget who took the top placing, and no one will underestimate him this time, as he leads the dressage at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (England) on Sept. 6 aboard his Badminton winner Clifton Promise.
The 29-year-old has pledged to take all the direct routes on Mark Phillips’s much-respected cross-country track, announcing determinedly, “I’m here to win.”
Watch his video diary from the day.
After an outstanding performance, in which he scored his first 10 at the four-star level, for the halt, Paget, on 36.7, is ahead of Thursday’s dressage leader Ingrid Klimke of Germany on FRH Butts Abraxxas by just 1.3 penalties.
Paget, who also sits in equal fifth place on Clifton Lush, could become the first rider since Ginny Leng (riding Master Craftsman) in 1989 to win Badminton and Burghley in the same season on the same horse.
But he’ll have to put in the same kind of foot-perfect performance that earned him the win in May, as Nicholson is in third on his Olympic mount Nereo, who finished third at Burghley in 2011, and Fox-Pitt lies fourth on Parklane Hawk, his Burghley (2011) and Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (2012) winner.
“I thought it was a better test than he did at Badminton,” said Paget. “He was more consistent the whole way through.”
The only U.S. rider to contest Burghley this year, Buck Davidson on Park Trader, finished tied for 49th place on 57.8.
Cross-country master Nicholson said he thought The Land Rover Dairy Farm at fence 19 would be the biggest test on Saturday. “It’s the seven-minute point on the course, and horses always start feeling a bit tired by this point,” he said. “Whatever is put on the mound always tends to ride trickier than you think.”
This fence is perhaps causing the most discussion among riders. It comprises an uphill triple brush, which will require plenty of impulsion, followed by a bending downhill five-stride distance to another accuracy-testing triple brush.
Phillips said the narrow triple brushes on the mound had been cut back slightly at the riders’ request.
“The sides had a bit of a haircut this morning, so they are not as scooped out,” he said. “I’ve asked the most difficult questions in the first seven minutes of the course. If riders make a mistake from here on in I think they’ll be kicking themselves.”
Watch a course preview with Phillips.
Behind Paget, less than 5 penalties cover the rest of the top 10, and with a chasing pack of this high quality, he may have to work hard for his first Burghley win.
“Lush is good at turning, but he hasn’t got as big a stride as Promise, who can be strong at the start of the course, and so he may find some of the distances tricky,” said Paget. “If I win Burghley, I will be a very happy man.”
Cross-country kicks off at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow with pathfinders Louisa Milne Home and King Eider.