BACK with a bang at the elite end of eventing is Britain's Pippa Funnell who won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials this afternoon with the 11-year-old Irish-bred gelding MGH Grafton Street (by OBOS Quality) just pipping her great friend 2019 Badminton winner Piggy French into second with 2017 Burghley winner Oliver Townend in third, bringing up a one-two-three for British riders in the showpiece event.
Funnell (50) entered the show jumping phase with a single fence in hand but had the crowd holding its collective breath when knocking out a pole with some force midway but held her nerve to finish the rest of the round with all the poles in their cups in an unbeatable 30.8 to a standing ovation from the crowd to snatch the narrowest of wins from French and the 14-year-old Irish-bred bay mare Vanir Kamira (ISH) just behind on 30.9, with Townend and the Irish-bred Ballaghmor Class (ISH) in third on 31.3.
Afterwards an emotional Funnell, who won Badminton in 2002 and 2005, immediately berated herself for riding what she termed "the worst round of my life'' and thanked the horse's owners, the Clarkes, and all her team for their support. Paying tribute to her close friend, French expressed her delight at Funnell's victory describing her as "her hero'' while a thrilled Tim Funnell said 'nobody deserved it more'.
When she had time to gather her thoughts, Pippa Funnell said: "It's absolutely surreal. I'm so delighted for (owners) Jonathan and Jane Clarke but I'm so proud of MGH Grafton Street, Squirrel we call him. Pig (Piggy) and I have been partners to each other all week. We know the sport, it's going to be her day, or my day or Oliver's day. We understand the sport. When it comes down to the field of play, you put that behind you.
"For me, I've had it really tough. I've not been in this position for a long time and all the time, I'm rooting for Pig (Piggy) because I'm so fond of her. It is nice for once to stay in front of her.
"The sport is about confidence. At my age, I'm not that brave and I have to believe in my horses. There are big fences out there. MGH Grafton Street has a few blips on his record but I'm a great one for following my gut instinct. I just had a feeling about the horse, ever since I first saw the horse I liked the horse. From the start, I loved his character, he's the cheeky one in the yard. He is so attention-seeking, a real character.
"I'm so proud of what he has really grown to the whole atmosphere here. Right from when I first arrived and I rode him, he had that feeling of 'I'm here' and it's a very special feeling and he gave me those good vibes."
Burghley Event Director Elizabeth Inman commented: "It's been the most amazing event, everything has gone so well, what a competition and what a result. I always remember 2003 when Pippa won the Rolex Grand Slam and now she's come back and did it again. The crowds have flocked to the event for the last two days.
"The trade stands were packed. We've had steel bands, it's been a magical four days. It takes over 1,000 volunteers on Saturday alone to run the cross-country course. They come back year after year. They are part of our family, a huge thank you to them all."
Runner-up Piggy French, who missed out on doing the Badminton-Burghley double by 0.1 of a second, said: "There are no margins for error at all but we have both tried, me and Vanir, our absolute best. There was no area where we could have tried harder.
"I'm genuinely pleased that it was Mrs Funnell's day because nobody deserves it more. Pippa is a complete legend of the sport.
"My little horse is a legend in the sport as well. We are great friends. I think her horsemanship and her attention to detail just goes so far and is a complete inspiration to people. It is all about horsemanship with her and I'm so glad that I'm able to be inspired by someone like Pippa."
Funnell said of her mount after the cross-country phase: "I'm chuffed, really delighted, had my work cut out. Fantastic for Jonathan and Jane Clarke, the owners. Believe me, my back up team over the last month have been incredible as I've been away jumping at Bolesworth. I'm absolutely over the moon but I hold up my hand and it did not look that pretty, losing a silk as well. He kept digging deep.
"For sure, there were a bit of places where he was a bit green and if I'm honest, I had to use my experience. I had to hold him where I had to hold him in and give him nice strides where I could."
French said of her mount on the cross-country phase: "She was great. She's getting older. She's a hard little thing and off she goes. They are horses, they are not machines, they have got their own minds and feelings towards the whole thing. She's that sort of horse that she would rather die than say she's not going."
Townend said of Ballaghmor Class after the cross-country: "The horse is unbelievable. This is his fifth five-star and he is never out of the shake-up. His consistency is second to none in the world. He is the only horse in history to finish five on the bounce and finish top five, he has done it again for us.
"To have a horse of this calibre in your yard is a once in a lifetime thing. We're lucky we have had a couple with Cooley Master Class and the Kentucky situation as well. He'll be let down and into the field for a well earned break and hopefully pick up and go again next time."
In fourth was Britain's Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet (39.6) while last year's winner New Zealand's Tim Price and Bango (ISH) were fifth in 41.6.
Price said afterwards today: "I was very happy, a clear round is what we are after at the end of the day and it was no fluke, he's a good jumper and you just hope that nothing goes awry. He woke up really well this morning. He's a bright horse, he's bottomless but you need to put that into a package and deliver it in the ring and we did that."
Foaled in Ireland in 2008, data for MGH Grafton Street (Bannerfarm Rocket) is incomplete but the gelding is by OBOS Quality out of an unrecorded mare. He was acquired by Lucy Wiegersma and has been ridden by Pippa Funnell since 2015.
By Camiro de Haar Z out of Fair Caledonian by Dixi XX, Vanir Kamira was bred in Co Monaghan by Kathryn Jackson and is owned by Trevor Dickens.
Ballaghmor Class was bred by Limerick's Noel Hickey and is by Courage II out of Kilderry Place and is owned by Angela Hislop, Karyn Shuter, Val Ryan and Peter Ryan.
Bred in Ireland in 2006 by James Foley, the chesnut gelding Bango (Bango Royale) is by Garrison Royale out of No Sale by Don Tristan. Bango is owned by the Wilts-based Numero Uno Syndicate.
Top Burghley coverage in The Irish Field this week
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