World number one Tim Price has smashed the dressage record at Defender Burghley Horse Trials with an outstanding mark of 18.7 on Alex and Joe Giannamore’s Vitali, a 13-year-old German-bred bay gelding.
The New Zealander, winner of Defender Burghley in 2018, has 5.5 penalties in hand over nearest rival Oliver Townend, who has performed the extraordinary feat of having two of his three rides on the same score of 24.2.
Oliver is in joint second place on Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s Ballaghmor Class and the Ridgeons’ Swallow Springs, as well as being currently 13th on first ride Tregilder.
Olympic gold and silver medallist Tom McEwen is lying fourth with the good score of 25.6 on Toledo De Kerser, the horse back at Defender Burghley for the first time since he was fourth in 2019. Tom is also handily placed in 12th on the mare Luna Mist.
Tim’s dressage score is the first sub-20 at Defender Burghley and the best since the 2016 winner Chris Burton’s 20.1 (in today’s scoring system).
“I’m elated,” he said. “Vitali is a quirky little horse who throws all sorts of curveballs, from the trot-up to the warm-up.
“He has so much potential and today has done what he is truly capable of. He is a similar horse to Ringwood Sky Boy [2018 Defender Burghley winner] in that he is unconventional but has lots of ability.”
Oliver has a busy cross-country day in prospect.
“I will be riding one freak and two very good horses,” he commented, the “freak” being a reference to his outstandingly consistent five-star horse Ballaghmor Class, who has been first, second and third at Defender Burghley as well as clocking up several other CCI5*-L placings including a win at Kentucky in the USA.
“He’s very professional at a competition, but he’s not ‘anybody’s’ horse,” said Oliver, who has been riding “Thomas” since the horse was four years old. “He’s the last horse I check at night and the first one I see in the morning.”
Tom said that it felt “great” to be back at Defender Burghley with the 16-year-old Toledo De Kerser.
“He’s a super jumper and I’ve got to use that to my advantage. The cross-country course is so beautifully designed and so fluent this year that he should love it.”
Rosalind Canter, the new European champion, is now in fifth place with the mare Pencos Crown Jewel, and the leading American rider Boyd Martin is sixth on Tsetserleg TSF.
Grace Taylor, 27, who also rides for the USA, has made a great start at her first five-star; she is currently in seventh place on the Irish sport horse Game Changer with a mark of 28.9. The gelding is owned by her mother, Ann, who has also competed at Burghley, as has her British father, Nigel.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said afterwards. “It’s quite surreal to see your name next to the names of people that you idolise. I don’t know when I will have another chance to get a horse to this level, so I’ve got to go out there and give it my best.”
The seasoned Irish rider Sam Watson has described Derek di Grazia’s thought-provoking cross-country track as “the most exciting course I’ve seen for years. It’s perfect and I can’t wait to jump it.”
Harry Meade, who, like Oliver Townend, also has three rides at Defender Burghley, and is currently in 11th, 21st and 38th places, will be first out on it at 11.15am.
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Tickets for Defender Burghley can be purchased online at burghley-horse.co.uk and downloaded or printed out prior to your visit, or on the gate.
Image of Tim Price and Vitali at Defender Burghley 2023 courtesy of DBHT/Peter Nixon.