Throwback Thursday: Pippa Funnell's Tension-Filled Burghley Win From 16 Years Ago

Sep 12, 2019 - 9:23 AM

The 2019 Land Rover Burghley CCI5*-L (England) took place last weekend, concluding with Pippa Funnell claiming the top prize, so we thought we’d look back to when she won Burghley in 2003, helping her become the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. Germany’s Michael Jung is the only other rider to have won, completing the trifecta in 2016.

Funnell had come close to winning Burghley in 2002, after winning the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI5*-L that spring. She was leading at Burghley after dressage, but cross-country time and one rail in show jumping left her in sixth.

The stars aligned the following year, and Funnell was able to walk away as the Burghley Horse Trials champion, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Funnell found herself in the lead once again after dressage with Primmore’s Pride but picked up 2.4 time penalties cross-country, so she headed into show jumping tied with Zara Phillips.

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With a win at Burghley on Primmore’s Pride, Pippa Funnell was the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. Peter Nixon Photo

Terri Danisevich’s coverage of Funnell’s win for the Chronicle was as follows:

Scriptwriters couldn’t have created a better ending to the Burghley Masterfoods CCI5*-L, Sept. 4-7 in Stamford, England. And as the event neared its conclusion, Zara Phillips and Pippa Funnell, who were vying for first place after cross-country, endured more than the normal amount of tension.

In her first five-star, Phillips, 22, the Queen of England’s granddaughter, was the first rider born of two Burghley winners (Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips) to contest the great event. In addition, she had the pressure of enormous public interest as a member of the royal family.

Funnell, who’d won Rolex Kentucky and Badminton (England) this spring, was the first rider with the chance of banking the $250,000 Rolex Grand Slam by winning the three five-stars in the northern hemisphere in succession.

While Funnell held the advantage of Phillips after dressage, her Kentucky winner Primmore’s Pride came home 8 seconds slow on cross-country, giving her the same score as Phillips. Meanwhile, Phillips and Toytown clocked up the fastest round of the day, 23 seconds inside the time. So technically, Phillips held the advantage on Sunday and show jumped last.

Funnell, the reigning European Champion, had said that if there was one horse she’d choose to show jump for the big prize, it would be Primmore’s Pride, by Mark Tood’s Mayhill and out of a Ben Faire mare who was ninth at Badminton. While his scopey jump might lose him precious seconds cross-country, it gave Funnell, 33, of Surrey, England, the clear show jumping round she needed. When Toytown faulted at just one fence, Primmore’s Pride went down in history as the horse to give Funnell eventing’s ultimate prize.

“By God, this feels good,” said a shaky Funnell as she collected her check and another Rolex watch to add to the one she won at Kentucky.

After winning Kentucky with the 10-year-old Primmore’s Pride and then Badminton for a second time with Supreme Rock, Funnell has had a nervous anticipation of Burghley all summer. “I haven’t felt human the last two or three weeks,” she said.

After winning Badminton in 2002 and then Kentucky this spring, by the narrowest of margins, Funnell might have already wrapped up the Grand Slam, had she won Burghley last autumn. She almost did, save for 12 cross-country time penalties, again collected with Primmore’s Pride.

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Cross-country time penalties meant Pippa Funnell was in a tie for first going into show jumping, but Primmore’s Pride left all the jumps in the cups to take the win. Peter Nixon Photo

This year Funnell was more confident in going for it but was still frustrated to finish over the time. “Normally I don’t sleep well before cross-country, but Friday night I slept very well,” she said. “Although on Saturday, after I’d jumped around clear and felt an enormous weight lifted from me, I didn’t sleep at all. I kept re-riding the course thinking, ‘Why did I get 2.4 points?’ And wondering if this was going to go down to the wire again.”

With four advanced horses, it was assumed her first choice to ride for the Grand Slam title would be her Olympic, World and European Championship mount and two-time Badminton winner, Supreme Rock. But he had to be withdrawn two weeks before the event with an injury. Then, on the eve of the competition, she had to withdraw her intended second ride, Cornerman.

“I’ve aged 10 years in the last two weeks and another five today, and I never, ever want to go through it again. I owe everything to these horses,” said Funnell.

Funnell started the event with one of only two scores to break the 40 mark (39.4). Germany’s Bettina Hoy and Woodsides Ashby won the dressage (36.0), with all three judges giving her their highest scores of the 80 rides.

Phillips, who won her first four-star at the British Young Rider Championships at Bramham (England) last year, was just behind in third. Andrew Nicholson took fourth the Lord Killinghurst, just ahead of the best-placed of the 16 U.S. entries, Stephen Bradley and the Russian-bred From. Two of the three judges gave Cindy Rawson and Ashdale David’s Way nearly the same score as Funnell’s, but the third judge didn’t see it the same way. She stood in seventh.

Because of the pressure on Funnell and the inexperience of Phillips, some were putting their money on Nicholson to win. But a fault at the last fence kept him more than a rail behind the leaders.

By the time Funnell came in to jump, the crowd was willing her on to jump clear, and when she landed over the last fence with a huge smile on her face, she said she felt tremendous relief. While she hadn’t won yet, by that time she was just thinking, “If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be.”

Watched by a record crowd, hoping to catch a bit of eventing history, Phillips proceeded to jump a well-judged round. Having scored a few clear rounds during his relatively short eventing career, Toytown rubbed a few fences, but the rails stayed up until the third from home. As the last element of the triple fell, the crowd gave a large gasp, realizing Funnell had won it all.

Phillips was not disappointed to come second. “I never dreamt I’d finish in the top three; I had an incredible ride on Saturday and today was a good round for me,” she said.

For Funnell, it will take some doing to top this weekend, which landed her not only the Rolex Grand Slam but also paid out $40,022 for winning Burghley. While she has now won just about every CCI in Europe, the Burghley prize was the one major event missing from her trophy cabinet.

Watch highlights from Funnell’s Grand Slam, courtesy of British Eventing:

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