Oliver Townend and Ballmoral Class were favorited to win the Defender Burghley Horse Trials in the UK. On Sunday, they showed why.

The final phase of the famed 5* event proved that true event horses have to be consistent in all three phases. Of the 32 that came through the final trot up and into the show jumping arena, only six horses jumped without fault.

Tim Price (NZL), who led after dressage with his record-breaking score of 18.7 and maintained his lead, albeit foreshortened, after the cross country, knew that his podium position was vulnerable. Vitali is not the most careful of show jumpers.

And that’s precisely what stadium course demanded on Sunday.

USA’s Boyd Martin, the first rider into the arena for the afternoon session, had two horses within the top ten. On Cue had two fences down but still managed to climb one place to finish 10th overall on 50.6. Tsetserleg dropped three fences and from seventh to ninth in the standings on 49.7.

“It was a bit of a mess,” said Martin. “I had [Tsetserleg] jumping so well outside. We came to the second fence on a half stride and we went straight through it and ploughed through the next one before he regained his composure. It was a disappointment, but at the same time, I’m so proud to be here and to complete Burghley with two top ten places.”

With clear rounds at a premium, careful horses were always going to move up the leaderboard, which is what Harry Meade (GBR) did, climbing into third with a clear on Cavalier Crystal (37.4) and collecting the Embryo Transfer award for the highest placed mare.

Countryman David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed were the only combination of the week to complete on their dressage score, a feat only nine of 974 combinations have managed in Burghley history, reports EquiRatings. They finished in second place on 33.7 penalties.

“I was disappointed to miss out on the Europeans so it was great to come here and show off how good he really is. He has had three top ten placings in five stars, so now he just has to go out and win one!” said Doel.  

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, winners of the 2023 Defender Burghley Horse Trials. ©Helen Revington

Standing second on the overnight leaderboard, Oliver Townend (GBR) and his “horse of a lifetime” Ballaghmor Class entered the arena knowing that Price had less than a fence in hand. The pair were on track to jump clear within the time right up until the final fence, when they brushed the rail and down it came, giving Price a little bit of breathing space.

Alas, it was not enough.

Last to enter the ring, the first fence came down early for Price and Vitali, followed by two more and the pair fell to fourth place (38.7), a disappointing end to his weekend but their dressage test on Friday is likely to remain in the record books for years to come.

Townend, celebrating his seventh five star win, was in tears on the podium.

“I am so proud of Thomas and so proud of the team—they manage the horses so well—they keep on turning up at five star after five star very sound, very fit and with smiles on their faces and producing the results that they do. I cannot do it without them and I cannot thank them enough.

“We’ll be celebrating tonight and it won’t be with tea and biscuits, that’s for sure.”

Ballaghmor Class is the third horse in Burghley history to claim the victory more than once, joining the ranks of Avebury (3 wins, Andrew Nicholson) and Priceless (2, Ginny Elliot), and the 11th horse in eventing history to win three or more five-stars, according to Equiratings.

Class indeed.