Twenty-five years ago, Andrew Hoy arrived in England from his native Australia with a little horse named Davey and announced his entrance with a stunning win in the 1979 Burghley CCI**** in Stamford, England.
Since then, Hoy has won three Olympic team gold medal and an individual silver. But he hadn’t won Burghley again until this year’s anniversary of that first win, Sept. 2-5.
Hoy and Moon Fleet outlasted a starting field of 90 to win by the narrowest of margins, just 0.2 penalties ahead of Marie-Louise “Bumble” Thomas aboard The Psephologist. Andrew Nicholson guided Lord Killinghurst into third, while Hoy’s other mount, Master Monarch, finished fourth.
American fortunes at Burghley weren’t the best. John Williams rode Sloopy to the top U.S. finish, in 18th place. Heidi White took 23rd with Northern Spy, while Nina Fout claimed 25th with the veteran 3 Magic Beans. At her first Burghley, Ashley MacVaugh took 36th on All’s Fair, while Linden Wiesman finished 40th on Primitive Gold. Kim Morani and Test Run rounded out the field of finishers in 43rd place.
Moon Fleet and Hoy led the first day of dressage. “I think that Moon Fleet did a good test. Ideally, I was hoping for a score in the high 30s, and I got a 44.4,” said Hoy. “He’s a lovely moving horse, and a very elegant horse. He has a wonderful swing to his trot and canter work, and he’s good at his changes.”
On the second day of dressage, the indomitable Pippa Funnell easily overtook Hoy’s lead, scoring a 35.4 with Cornerman. And Nicholson claimed second with an impressive 40.2 on Lord Killinghurst. William Fox-Pitt lay third on 42.4 with Ballincoola, while Hoy and Moon Fleet were relegated to fourth.
But Burghley is anything but a dressage show, and on Saturday Hoy rose to the top with the two fastest clean rides of the day. Over a course where just 33 horses jumped clean, with none inside the time, Hoy came home just 10 seconds late on Moon Fleet and 11 seconds late on Master Monarch.
“It is a big course, and the ground makes it bigger–but this was one of the nicest rides I have had on this horse–the horse impressed me more than ever,” said Hoy. “He’s always been a very talented horse in the way that he moves, and he’s just become stronger. They way that he galloped around cross-country showed that to no end.”
Hoy has had the ride on Moon Fleet, a 13-year-old, English-bred Thoroughbred by the top steeplechasing sire Strong Gale, for four years. Owner Susan Magnier’s son, J.P., originally brought Moon Fleet to train with Hoy, but after he became more interested in racing, Hoy took over the reins. Moon Fleet won the Luhmuhlen CCI*** (Germany) in 2002, and completed the Badminton CCI**** (England) last year.
Hoy’s victory was, however, overshadowed by the tragic death of Caroline Pratt, 42, an English rider who was killed when her horse, Primitive Streak, flipped over the C element of the last water complex and landed on her. Pratt had already ridden another horse, Call Again Cavalier, to a quick, clean round.
“We as riders are devastated by the tragic loss of Caroline. She was a most delightful person, a most 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, the rider’s representative at the event. The flags around the arena flew at half-mast on Sunday, riders wore black armbands and observed a moment of silence in Pratt’s memory.
In addition, a rain-filled August had created soaked ground that turned into a gluey surface in the uncharacteristically sunny and hot weather just before and during the event. The conditions made fast and clean cross-country rounds scarce. Just 48 horses completed the phase, with 21 retirements and seven eliminations (see sidebar).
Smiley emphasized, “Issues of Caroline’s tragic death and our concerns about the course were not related. As far as everyone could see, Caroline’s horse was still jumping and Caroline was riding as well as expected, and it was just a tragic accident.”
Moving Up On The Scoreboard
Funnell’s lead came to an end on cross-country. Cornerman, looking reluctant to jump, stopped at the first water, the bounce into the Lower Trout Hatchery. He crawled over the bounce on the second attempt, and Funnell retired. She later discovered that Cornerman was tying up. Fox-Pitt saw his victory disappear as Ballincoola put the brakes on at the C element of the last water complex, a table in the water. But they still finished 11th, with just 16.8 time faults and then a clean show-jumping round.
Thomas and The Psephologist set off on cross-country tied for 15th after dressage. But a solid, confident round, adding just 7.6 time faults, vaulted them into fourth place. And then a clean show jumping moved them up to second. Nicholson and Lord Killinghurst had collected just 13.2 time faults on their clean trip around cross-country, but a rail on Sunday dropped them down to third. At last May’s rain-soaked Badminton CCI**** (England), Lord Killinghurst had been second, with The Psephologist third.
Perhaps significantly, Moon Fleet was the ninth starter on course just after 11 a.m., while the ground was at its wettest. And The Psephologist and Lord Killinghurst were each held on course for more than 20 minutes because of falls ahead of them.
Thomas’ clear show jumping round left her with a total of 56.6, and as Hoy began his show-jumping round on Moon Fleet, he had an 8.2-penalty cushion and seemed safe. But when Moon Fleet carelessly grabbed the rail at the first vertical, eyebrows raised.
“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,” said Hoy.
Some more lumber hit the ground at another vertical, and things got very interesting. Hoy had just three more jumps to jump clean, and Moon Fleet rubbed each one, but they crossed the finish line with just the 8 faults, still in front.
Williams and Sloopy moved up dramatically to claim their 18th place. Sloopy tied for 57th in dressage (60.6), but a clean cross-country with 20 time penalties moved them up to 20th, and an eight-fault show jumping round moved them up two more places.
White and Northern Spy made a similar creep up the standings, starting 34th after dressage. They had a run-out at fence 24AB, a bullfinch oxer with four bending strides to a bullfinch vertical. But they only picked up 20 time faults as well and finished Saturday in 28th place. Just 1 time fault in show jumping left them 23rd.
Nina Fout and the Olympic veteran 3 Magic Beans set off on cross-country tied for 63rd (62.0). “Beans” jumped with his usual verve and flair, but Fout just wasn’t able to get the gallop she wanted, and they finished with 34.4 time faults.
“The whole course was a real thinking course. It was very busy the first half, and you had to be precise and accurate,” said Fout. “I was really happy with the first half, because we were on time through all those busy loops, but the ground got boggier on the back side. While I was happy with the clean round, I was frustrated by the holding ground. He just got lower and longer in his frame, lumbering through the mud. And I can’t jump safely out of that balance. He was fresh and finished well, but he was just getting unbalanced by punching through the mud.”
MacVaugh and All’s Fair were having a rollicking clear round across country until the next-to-last fence, 27ABC. The fence involved a turning question of narrow-faced tables with wide spreads, followed by a direct three strides to a brush picture-frame fence. MacVaugh picked up a run-out at the C element and finished Saturday in 40th place.
“He was just getting a little flat and a little tired,” said MacVaugh. “He jumped the first table, and when I made the turn, I just didn’t feel like I had a lot of horse left. He kind of tapped the second table in front, and it unbalanced him, and he kind of pecked on landing. I got a little unseated, and I didn’t feel like I had enough gas to make the three strides to the brush. So, I just pulled away from it, regrouped, got going again, and went to the jump.”
Better Luck Next Time
Jan Thompson and Task Force came to grief at the same fence. After tying for 23rd in dressage, they were having a brilliant and fast clean round until Task Force left a knee on the first table of 27ABC and he and Thompson fell.
That fence was also the undoing of Gretchen Butts and Zydeco. They’d incurred a run-out at the bullfinch turning question at 24AB, and then Butts fell at the C element of the last water complex, a table in the water at the Lion’s Bridge Crossing.
“He was sticky off the ground jumping into the water and landed weak,” said Butts. “And then he dropped his shoulder over the dock and I just pitched right off. He stayed around, and I got back on. But it was a long run to the next couple fences, and I’ve not ever been in a situation where I was totally soaked. He still had plenty of heart in him to try and do it.”
Then next fence was 27ABC. “I went to set up for those turning tables, and all of a sudden, it felt like I was communicating with him by Braille,” she said. “There was so little response from him. I’m not sure how we got over the first, and I thought I made the turn to the second as generous as I could. I was just trying to keep the engine going. He jumped the second table and did the same thing, kind of dropped that shoulder and landed in a heap, and I had nothing to hang on with, and off I went.”
The second fall eliminated them, just one fence from home.
“I’m so pleased with him; he jumped everything out there with great heart. Obviously, I’m disappointed, but I’m so proud of him,” Butts said of Zydeco on their first Burghley outing.
Linden Wiesman ruefully admitted that her fall off Primitive Gold at fence 16, a simple ramped table on top of was “at the easiest fence on course,” she said. “He was jumping great, and I somehow just jumped off.” A further 8 faults in show jumping left them 40th.
Kim Morani and Test Run, at their first Burghley, started off 77th and set out with determination on cross-country. But at fence 8ABC, a coffin of bullfinches, Test Run misread the question and jumped awkwardly over the first brush. Morani got dislodged and fell, but remounted and carried on. They had a run-out later at the bullfinch turning question at 24AB, but completed. A four-fault show jumping concluded their effort.
The highest-placed American after dressage was Cindy Rawson (nee Collier), who lives in England. She and Ashdale David’s Way were in 11th, but they retired after a fall at the first water complex.
Gina Miles and McKinlaigh were clean up to the 22nd fence, where the weather and footing took their toll. “I was having the best cross-country round of my life up until the eight-minute marker. Then, I galloped up the hill to the Capability’s Cutting, and he crawled through that. I thought maybe he was just winded from galloping up the hill, so I went to the next oxer, but he crawled over that, and I pulled up,” she said.
“Up until that point, he was better than he’s ever been. I think the combination of the heat and the soft going just caught up with us. If the ground had been firmer, we would have been fine, I think. It just wasn’t the right conditions for him. He’s a big horse, and for him to cool himself out he needed conditions a little different from what we had.”
“That Doesn’t Seem Right”
On Sunday, a spectator walking past the enormous scoreboard in the middle of Burghley’s trade fair stopped, looked at the overwhelming amount of red writing denoting eliminations and retirements, and commented, “Well, that doesn’t seem right.” And many of the riders would agree.
After walking Wolfgang Feld’s cross-country course, and taking into consideration the deep, holding footing and the unusually hot and humid weather conditions, combined with both steeplechase and cross-country phases being set at the maximum length and speed, many riders had concerns about speed and endurance day.
They voiced those concerns to the elected riders’ representative, Eric Smiley of Ireland. Smiley in turn took those issues to the technical delegate, Guiseppe Della Chiesa, and the ground jury–Jean Mitchell, Sue Baxter and Guy Otheguy. The situation culminated in a riders’ meeting with the officials on Friday evening.
The overwhelming worry for most riders was fence 27ABC, a turning combination of two narrow-faced tables with wide spreads, set on a five-stride U-turn and followed in three direct strides by a brush picture-frame fence. Riders were concerned that the fence asked too tough a question for the second-last fence.
“[Fence 27ABC] was certainly within the limits of the four-star standard, but I really did feel like an alternative was necessary,” said Karen O’Connor, who was at Burghley not riding, but coaching some of the American riders. “It’s very untraditional to have the second-to-last fence be so difficult. It was such a combination of questions within that exercise; it demanded the highest standard of adjustability, turning, fitness, accuracy and scope.
“It would be absolutely appropriate anywhere until the three-quarter mark of the course, but not after that,” continued O’Connor. “Usually the first three fences on course are to get the horses going and are very welcoming. The last few fences on the course are normally designed to help get the horses home. Fence 27ABC really did not give the riders that kind of confidence.”
Smiley took the rider’s opinions to the officials as soon as Wednesday. “It was discussed during the week that the steeplechase could be shortened, the C halt could be lengthened, the course could have been shortened, and fence 27 could have had a black flag alternative to jump one or other of the tables, and have that as 27A, and the brush as 27B. On Friday night we received final word that nothing was going to be changed, except they made the concession of increasing the roping area around 27 and making a five-minute hold after steeplechase.”
The officials stood firm on their decision. “We felt that the weather had improved and the going had improved. We thought that the steeplechase course, while at 41Â³2 minutes, was on perfect going, better than it had ever been. We were very satisfied with the way the ground was drying up on the cross-country,” said Mitchell, the president of the ground jury.
“Yes, the cross-country was the maximum of 13 minutes, but it was measured generously. Guiseppe and the course designer, Wolfgang, were very determined that the course would remain as designed. That was their very strong feeling,” continued Mitchell.
“Yes, some of the riders weren’t happy, but in this day and age, it’s very difficult to ascertain if they’ve gotten their horses ready for an event with maximum distances. The technical delegate was determined that unless there were extreme weather conditions, he would not change anything, and he did not consider the conditions extreme.”
But after just 48 of 90 starters completed cross-country, with 21 retirements and seven eliminations, riders met on Sunday to vent their frustration at the lack of cooperation they’d received from the officials. Carl Bouckaert, the riders’ representative to the FEI Eventing Committee, flew in from his home in Georgia to attend the meeting and agreed to take the two suggestions that were proposed there to the FEI.
Riders overwhelmingly expressed their desire the have their voice heard by the officials, since there is no rule that requires officials to change any aspect of an event even if a majority of riders have firm opinions about it. Bouckaert will present to the FEI the idea of having a three- or four-member panel of riders, similar to the ground jury, who will present riders’ concerns to the officials, with the stipulation that if their majority feels strongly about an issue, the officials will be required to address it.
The riders also suggested a system of checks and balances for eventing officials, so that officials can be held accountable for making decisions that adversely affect the competition.
“Accountability is important in football [soccer],” said Smiley. “If a referee makes consistently bad decisions, he goes for retraining and works his way back up to the highest level. “There are certain occasions when we all have to look at ourselves and live with our conscience, and see whether we have done a good job. I think in this particular case, one or two officials may well have some difficulty doing this,” Smiley added.
Smiley, encouraged by the meeting’s outcome, stressed that it in no way were the riders looking to challenge the authority of officials. “What I think is important is that all those officials who give of their time and expertise freely should not be frightened by the thought of an increased rider voice. We don’t want to dumb the sport down to a level that is unacceptable to them or the riders,” he said.
“I have not doubt that in the future the riders’ input should have more credence,” said O’Connor. “It is all of our sport and the riders need to have a voice. To have had less than 50 percent finish is unacceptable and show that the test was harder than perceived. It looks bad for corporate sponsors, private sponsors, owners, young riders and parents. It is currently a frustrating situation for the riders that, despite a very strong stand, they were not heard. Our horses and our sport are at stake here.