Stamford, Lincolnshire, England—Sept. 8
With only half a point separating the top three heading into show jumping, the pressure was on the trio of Brits who were leading the pack at the Land Rover Burghley CCI5*-L. The week before, Pippa Funnell, Piggy French and Oliver Townend had been teammates, contributing to Great Britain’s team silver medal at the FEI European Championships at Luhmühlen (Germany). Now they were competing against one another at what many consider the toughest five-star in the world.
Townend had a rail down at the second fence with his 2017 Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class.
Then French toppled the first with Vanir Kamira, who had won the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (England) this spring.
Funnell could afford a rail, but when an odd distance led MGH Grafton Street to swim through a fence, it looked like her Burghley dream might be slipping from her grasp. Somehow the pair recovered, and Funnell finished the round to take her first five-star win since 2003, the year she became the first rider to claim the Rolex Grand Slam by winning Badminton, Burghley and the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event consecutively.
Funnell’s initial response to her win was typically self-deprecating and analytical: “I’m really embarrassed by that round and in shock, big shock,” she said, struggling to gather her composure after the emotional win. “He’s not the best show jumper, but I’ve always been convinced he had a big win in him. What an incredible two weeks with this and the Europeans.”
French joked, “It could easily have been four down, so I’m delighted to be second to be honest. She owes me nothing after everything she’s achieved, so I’ve got to be happy.”
The U.S. riders put in performances to be proud of in show jumping with Lauren Kieffer adding no penalties aboard Vermiculus to finish as the top-placed American in ninth. Burghley first-timer Ariel Grald was right behind her in 10th aboard Leamore Master Plan, and Andrea Baxter (Indy 500, 12th), Liz Halliday-Sharp (Deniro Z, 15th) and Lillian Heard (LCC Barnaby, 18th) each had just one down in the final phase.
“He’s a younger horse, and he was a proper Burghley horse this weekend,” said Kieffer of “Bug.” “I’m really excited for the future. I can kind of tell him from here on out it’s a bit easier. I’m not sure we’re ever going to do a track that was as big or hard as yesterday was, so hopefully he grows up a lot from that, and we can keep tackling big courses. I thought they did a really good job with [show jumping] considering how tough yesterday was. They were definitely a bit kinder about the lines being a bit longer and giving time between the combinations for the horses to take a breath and get going again. It wasn’t the hardest or the most technical course, but considering what the horses had to deal with yesterday, I think it was a very fair course.”
Will Coleman jumped a clean round with Tight Lines to finish 25th. Chris Talley withdrew Unmarked Bills before show jumping, stating on Facebook: “Yesterday Unmarked Bills gave me his entire heart out on cross-country and fought his way around one of the most difficult tracks in the world. Unfortunately this morning we have decided it is in his best interest to withdraw due to soreness in his stifle. We can’t be more thankful for the exceptional vets here in England as well as ours at home in the States, his owners, and our entire team who want nothing but the best for him. ‘Billy’ has given me one amazing ride after another and owes me absolutely nothing. At the end of the day his well-being will always be our main priority. Thank you to everyone who has made getting here possible. I hope one day in the future to be able to gallop around this incredible venue again!”