5-8 September 2024

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Winners Through The Decades

With less than a week to go until Defender Burghley 2018, we asked Kate Green to scroll back through the decades to remember the Burghley winners of 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago and see how times have changed.

Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 20:05

2008 William Fox-Pitt and Tamarillo

William always said that Tamarillo, a superb athlete and a great character who was not above putting in a naughty spook at an inopportune moment, did not much like mud, but Burghley in 2008 was beset by horrendous rainstorms. However, Finn and Mary Guinness’s home-bred part Arab, part Polish thoroughbred had won Badminton four years earlier in similar conditions and, having not been to Burghley before, he concentrated and gave William, who was also second on Ballincoola, an exhilarating ride.

It was said at the time that Tamarillo broke the mould, but he now has a five-year-old clone, Tomatillo, and it will be fascinating to see if he is as talented as the original.

1998 Blyth Tait and Chesterfield

Blyth’s campaign got off to a stormy start when he publicly complained about his dressage mark of 55 but, as the torrential rain came, dressage scores proved largely irrelevant (Andrew Nicholson, who finished third on Hinnegar, had been virtually last after dressage).

Only 23 horses completed the competition and Blyth, whose victory was part of a purple patch, coming after a British Open victory at Gatcombe and before second world title in Pratoni del Vivaro the following month, scored an easy one-two on his two New Zealand thoroughbreds Chesterfield and Aspyring.

1988 Jane Thelwall and Kings Jester

Like many Burghley winners before and since, Jane (now Wallace) had been disappointed to miss out on a championship, in this case the Seoul Olympics, but she had her moment in the sun when winning on John and Maryan Huntridge’s Kings Jester. The following year they won an individual European silver medal, also at Burghley.

Jane, one of the most versatile horsewomen to event at top level – she came from a showing background and worked for racehorse trainers – retired soon after due to back trouble; Kings Jester was later successful under Mandy Stibbe and Lorna Clarke.

The runner-up in 1988 was Madeleine Gurdon, now better known as Lady Lloyd Webber, on Midnight Monarch.

Jane is the author of the late Mike Tucker’s autobiography, The Man Behind the Mike, which is launched at Burghley this year.

1978 Lorna Clarke and Greco

Lorna made history as the first rider to win Burghley twice, following her victory in 1976 on the skewbald cob Popadom. It was a triumphant return to prominence after a fallow period and a happy story—Greco was due to have been sold abroad, but had failed the vet.

Burghley also hosted the Junior European Championships (for riders 21 and under), in which Germany’s Ralf Ehrenbrink won double gold, 10 years before he was a member of the gold medal team at the Seoul Olympics.

1968 Sheila Willcox and Fair and Square

The victory signaled a dramatic return to form for the rider who, most people in the sport would agree, set new standards in professionalism with her meticulous approach to training and her embracing of the relatively new (to Britain) concept of flatwork. Sheila was considered to have blazed a trail for women in eventing and she was extremely glamorous; 28 years after her Burghley victory, she saw her her former pupil, Mary King, who attributes much of her success to the standards ingrained in her by Sheila, win on Star Appeal.

Sheila scored a record Badminton hat-trick in the 1950s, and was European champion in 1967, but it was an enduring grief to her that she never made it to an Olympics because, firstly, women were barred from competing at the Games and, secondly, she had a fall at the final trial in 1968 and refused to go as reserve. A bad fall at Tidworth in 1971 ended her career, but she continued writing, training and dealing, gradually retreating from public life. She died last year, aged 80.