THIS year’s 50th anniversary Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials is set to be the most spectacular ever and will be a royal occasion.
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, will be presenting the winning trophy and her newlywed daughter, Zara Phillips, will be competing on her horse High Kingdom.
Entries for the prestigious three-day event are at record levels, with an unprecedented waiting list.
Event director Elizabeth Inman said this week that she wasn’t quite sure what was creating the demand more - the fact that it was a very special Burghley or the pre-Olympic timing of the trials.
“The pace here at the trials office is fast and furious,” she says. “In spite of the economic gloom, bookings are all up and as this is the last four-star qualifying event for the Olympics this year. It’s very important from the selectors’ point of view.”
An entry list of 84 horses is the ideal, with 100 accepted as there are always some non-starters.
“We have never had a waiting list. In a normal year we are able to accept all entries but the demand this year has been massive,” Elizabeth says.
The class of entrants, based on an international points system, is also extremely high this year. No horses below a certain level are allowed entry as Burghley is one of the most demanding equestrian events in the world.
Princess Anne, a past Burghley winner herself on Doublet in 1971, has agreed to officiate at the prizegiving ceremony on Sunday, September 4 and will no doubt be hoping to present the silver trophy and £50,000 prize money to daughter Zara, a previous runner-up in 2003 on Toytown, who she tearfully retired at a Gatcombe Park riding event last weekend. Zara was married to England rugby player Mike Tindall at a ceremony attended by the entire royal family in Scotland two weeks ago. Her father, Captain Mark Phillips, is course designer and also a past Burghley champion.
“We have invited all past winners going back to 1961 and have had a very good response. Several of the early winners are getting on a bit but they’re a fairly fit lot. We’re planning to do a parade around the main arena in vintage Land Rovers on the Friday afternoon,” says Elizabeth.
Anneli Drummond-Hay, winner of the very first Burghley, is hoping to come over from her home in South Africa.
There will be a timing problem to sort out for the parade, as some of the past winners, such as William Fox-Pitt and Mary King, will actually be competing on the day.
To mark the anniversary there will be specially-designed, limited edition silk scarves, the introduction of a Burghley Horse Trials iPhone app and, most importantly, some new fences.
Elizabeth says: “Last year we decided to create a new complex involving the lake and the island by building a causeway and putting a jump there. Then we discovered there were white-clawed crayfish in the lake - a protected species - and all sorts of hoops had to be jumped through, the crayfish all caught and relocated and the island cleared.”
The jumps that will make up the complex are being called The Anniversary Splash and the Land Rover Landing Fence and there will be another new hurdle fence in the main arena, The Jubilee Leap, in honour of the 6th Marquess of Exeter, who set up the trials and was also an Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler.
There will be a huge selection of trade stands and the food walk has been enlarged. This is an important social as well as sporting event - the shopping mall on its own attracts thousands of visitors.
A 50th anniversary bursary for £15,000 is being awarded over three years to the Newmarket-based Animal Health Trust for research into strangles, a highly-infectious respiratory disease that affects horses. The trust runs the dog creche at Burghley every year.
There will also be a 50th anniversary publication to accompany the regular horse trials programme.
“Grandstand seats have already virtually sold out and business is booming. I’ve been amazed at how we’re doing in this present economic situation. Touching wood for fine weather, it’s looking to be a really great year,” Elizabeth says.