This year, it turns out that one of the key ingredients for getting into the top three at Burghley after cross-country is to have recently won a European Championships silver medal. Three of the riders who competed for Team GBR last week in Luhmühlen – Pippa Funnell, Piggy French and Oliver Townend – now lead a field that's been greatly reduced by problems on Captain Mark Phillips' demanding course.
Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street were the leaders after dressage and they hold onto that position going into the final phase by the narrowest of margins. MGH Grafton Street's inexperience may have meant that their round wasn't always the prettiest, but expert riding from Pippa saw that they got round with only four time penalties added to their dressage score of 22.8.
"I felt it was a whopper," she said afterwards in reference to the course. "It was actually one of the biggest five-star tracks I’ve seen, but there were no tricks. I felt the fences were fair and in front of the horses, and you had to stay focused, committed, brave and make any corrections travelling forward. MGH Grafton Street isn't very experienced and I had to keep my brave pants on, but I think it was a fair track for the horses."
Pippa credits much of her success today with confidence gained from a fantastic cross-country performance with Majas Hope in Luhmühlen.
"It helped me enormously to come here off the back of Luhmühlen," she said. "We know, in all sport, that it’s about confidence. In those moments when you have to make those split decision, when the confidence is there you’re a little bit braver."
And the other thing Pippa credits for her success?
"If you’re wondering why I still have my number on," she said in the end-of-day press conference, "it’s because I’m sleeping in it tonight – 77 is my lucky number. I hope it’s going to be lucky tomorrow. It’s also a good omen that I’ve lost my hat silk because that’s what happened with Primmore’s Pride when he won Badminton."
Hot on Pippa's heels is her close friend Piggy French, who was the only rider to go clear inside the time thanks to a cross-country masterclass with her Badminton winner, Vanir Kamira. They now sit just 0.1 penalties behind Pippa on a score of 26.9.
Commenting on her round, Piggy said: "I’m very lucky, my horse has got plenty of Burghley experience over the years. I’ve never made the time before – I’ve always just been out – so I put a bit of pressure on myself to never just think it felt nice and to instead always give another kick rather than sitting there and thinking it looks pretty. She’s a real trier and a true blood mare who keeps running right to the end – a proper Burghley horse.
If Piggy were able to get in front of Pippa tomorrow and lift the Badminton trophy, she would hold two of the legs of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing – a feat accomplished by Pippa in 2003 – with only Kentucky still to achieve.
Oliver Townend may have slipped from second to third, but he was quick to congratulate his Europeans team mates on their excellent rounds. He and Ballaghmor Class put in the second fastest round of the day to add only two time penalties to their dressage score, leaving them on an overnight total of 27.3.
"We know what Ballaghmor Class is capable of now, we’re not going into the unknown here," said Oliver afterwards. "We know he understands the track, we know he jumps the fences – it’s just case of me telling him what to do, so there's a bit more pressure on me to give him a nice ride at every fence. That’s probably where the extra five seconds came from because I was trying to coax him round and give him as level a trip as possible. I think he jumped fantastically, I think he enjoyed the ride I gave him, and I was happy with the way he felt from start to finish. It was probably the nicest round I’ve had on him at Burghley. He just feels as though he’s getting better and better – to have a horse of this calibre in the yard is an absolute privilege. It’s very special and it feels as though he’s made for Burghley."
With not even a fence separating these three, tomorrow's showjumping looks set to be a nail-biting conclusion to this year's competition. You can tune in to the highlights on BBC2 at 2:30PM, or catch it on the BBC Sport website or on iPlayer.
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