Equiratings has the 2023 Defender Burghley Horse Trials ranked as the strongest field on record since 2015.

With three athletes on the top 10 of all-time 5* winners—Great Britain’s Oliver Townend and Pippa Funnell on six 5* wins each and New Zealand’s Tim Price on five—they’re not looking to prove the data wrong. (ICYMI: William Fox-Pitt (GBR) holds the record at 14. #legend)

Day one saw two top combinations break into the 20-point barrier.

Townend, a two-time Burghley winner, went into the late lead on Irish Sport Horse Swallow Springs on a score of 24.3. The horse’s best CCI5* places to date have been third at Badminton last year and seventh at Luhmuhlen earlier this year.

“I thought he was exceptional in there and he’s still improving at the age of 15,” said the world no. 4. “Full credit must go to Andrew [Nicholson] who produced him, but I feel he’s still getting better and stronger with the system we have for him at home. He’s a very special horse to everyone involved with him and I couldn’t be happier with him today.”

Equiratings has them as the favorites with a 14% win chance and 34% top three chance. His closest competition, according to the prediction center: Townend on Tregider (13% win chance) followed by Townend on Ballaghmor Class (12% win chance).

He’ll not take it without a fight, however.

Recently crowned European dual gold medallist, Ros Canter (GBR), sits in second place on her 14-year-old mare, Pencos Crown Jewel, having led for much of the day on 26.9. Their Equiratings win chance is a lowly 6%, but predictions, like rules, are made to be proven wrong.

“Jasmine’s test was absolutely what I’d hoped for given her way of going,” said Canter. “Our first halt was decidedly dodgy and her legs went in all directions, but she was fantastic thereafter.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats just missed the magic 20s, finishing on 30.0 penalties to take third.

Hot on her heels are fellow Brits Tom McEwan and Townend riding Tregilder. Both finished on 30.5 penalties but McEwan edged into 4th place by virtue of better judge’s good marks.

Townend is one of two athletes to have three rides in the competition and will be hoping to better his own score Friday afternoon with his superstar ride, Ballaghmor Class, winner of Burghley in 2017, Lexington in 2021 and runners up at this year’s Badminton. The grey gelding is the highest-Equirated dressage horse in the field with a six-run dressage average of 24.4.

The Americans contingent is strong at Burghley this year, a fact underlined by the performance of Jennie Saville and FE Freestyle who are lying sixth, despite throwing in a couple of extra flying changes in their canter work! A beautifully square halt at the end of the test earned the pair two 9’s and an 8 from the judges.

Boyd Martin sits in eighth, less than one penalty behind Saville, with On Cue, the horse he won the Elkton CCI5* two years ago. Martin will return with his second ride Friday afternoon on his hugely consistent Tsetserleg TSF, who won the Bromont CCI4* in June.

He’ll be joined tomorrow by Will Faudree, Tiana Coudray and Grace Taylor.

Also worthy of mention is Canada’s Jessica Phoenix who is lying in joint 15th place with Ireland’s Austin O’Connor on Colorado Blue. Riding Wabbit, Jessica is the country’s sole representative at Burghley this year.

It all starts again Friday  World no. 1 Tim Price (NZL) will be competing, on Vitali, the horse on whom he finished 3rd here in 2022.