Defender Burghley Horse Trials

5 - 8 September 2024

Winners Avenue 5

There is a piece of land on the Burghley estate that's as evocative as Aintree's Melling Road, Epsom's Tattenham Corner or Silverstone's Brooklands Corner. This hallowed turf is Winners' Avenue, where a line of simple plaques bearing the names of Burghley's 60 victors follows a beautiful colonnade of lime trees running downhill towards the house. Riders have no time to stop and stare as they gallop past across country, but many like to return, in solitude, to remember past glories.

The idea came about during Bill Henson's tenure as Director in the 1990s and has become a holy grail for riders. 'It's a very special place,' says Mary King, whose own victory came in 1996 on Star Appeal. 'Riders love to remember both the great competitors of the past and the current brilliant ones. And it's always special when you come to your own name.'

Winners Avenue Pippa Funnell Plaque

First in an illustrious line-up is Anneli Drummond-Hay and Merely-A-Monarch, a stunning horse that many people still consider the blueprint for the eventing stamp. He was only six in 1961 — even nine-year-olds are unusual at Burghley nowadays — and was a Grade A showjumper that had never seen a water complex, let alone the Trout Hatchery.

Monarch's dressage performance was so superior that Anneli took a 30-mark lead and was never headed, winning by a wide margin. They were the first combination to do the Burghley-Badminton double (winning the latter event in 1962) after which they turned to show jumping, chiefly because the horse had become so valuable and because women were still barred from the Olympics, winning at the Royal International that summer.

Anneli, who is still riding at the age of 83, was 23; the rider at the opposite end of Winner's Avenue, Pippa Funnell, was 51 when she won her second Burghley title, 17 years after her first, riding MGH Grafton Street. Like Anneli, she led from start to finish, but her winning margin was just 0.1 over Piggy French. 'I did think I had another big one in me,' she said.

Winners Avenue4

In the intervening years, there have been two World Champions — Capt Carlos Moratorio from Argentina on Chalan (1966) and Bruce Davidson from the USA on JJ Babu (1974) — one Open European Champion (New Zealander Mark Todd in 1997 on Broadcast News) and six European Champions, including Princess Anne, whose horse, Doublet, was bred by The Queen. Her daughter, Zara Tindall, came closest to a place in Winner's Avenue when second to Pippa Funnell in 2003.

Burghley seems to bring out the best in New Zealanders: Mark Todd's one-two in 1987 was the first of 14 Kiwi victories. Like Andrew Nicholson and Ginny Elliot, he has five Burghley wins on his CV; William Fox-Pitt holds the record at six. In contrast, only two Continental Europeans have plaques: Germany's Bettina Hoy, European Champion in 1997, and Michael Jung, who clinched the Rolex Grand Slam in 2015.

For many riders, including dual winner Oliver Townend (2009 and 2017), Winner's Avenue is a place for quiet contemplation, saying: 'There's no one that shouldn't be there.'