The Fastest Rider in the world

by Diarm Byrne

We wrote a piece before the Olympic Games in 2016 which highlighted why we believed that Chris Burton was the fastest rider in the world. In the two years since, it feels like it has been picked up on and demonstrated so many times since it is now just accepted as a fact. When analysing eventing, and particularly when running predictions around medals, around team performance and around risk, we always start with the horse rather than the rider. Some riders have young and inexperienced horses in their string which can skew their stats as a rider, likewise riders with only one or two horses can have their data skewed by one brilliant or one poor performance. For that reason, the focus on the horse first is key. There is no doubt that when you look at speed horses, the focus rightly lands on horses like Classic Moet, Arctic Soul and Rioghan Rua.

We will be looking at speed horses as we move closer to WEG and the talk continues to build and the hill, the half-hill, the no-hill etc and whether the speed machines would get their opportunity to make their advantage count. If you want to focus on a horse for the title of ‘The Fastest’, you can’t really look further than Classic Moet. For us, just tracking clear inside the time rates isn’t enough, if lots of others make the time around the same track, are we really learning about speed when it matters most?

Instead, look at this. We set the criteria that the horse must be the single fastest horse in a three or four-star competition with more than twenty finishers on cross-country. Making the time is less of a speed indicator when there are others that do it, and we need to see a decent competition size to ensure that the result has enough substance to back it up.

Classic Moet hits the metric three times. WEG 2014, Burghley 2016 and Badminton 2018.

So, the fastest rider then.

Why Chris and not Jonelle, Gemma, Cathal Daniels or Izzy Taylor? We can slice and dice this lots of ways but the title for fastest rider has to sit with someone who is achieving it with lots of different horses and across all the levels. Again, rather than just counting up his inside the time rounds (16 inside the time rounds in last 21 internationals, on ten different horses…if you’re asking), we again turned to look at the times when he was the only one, or the fastest one. 

He has made the time at ten three star competitions in which nobody else did. And on nine different horses.

We looked at some of his top level wins, and how he uses his speed to achieve them. The key here, ten different horses, all at the top levels, all inside the time or the fastest.

At Gatcombe CIC3* 2018, nobody made the time, but Polystar 1 was the fastest round with 3.2 time penalties and went on to finish 6.5 marks ahead of Izzy Taylor and Be Touchable. The same horse earlier in the year at Arville ERM CIC3* was pulling up before the finish and was still way under the time (on a day when only Treason & Sarah Cohen joined them in adding no time penalties). Chris finished 8.6 marks clear of Laura Collett and London 52 to take the win. At Saumur CCI3 2018, Chris and Quality Purdey are one of 5 to make the time and go on to win, with a gap of 5.9 marks to Sir Mark Todd and McClaren in second.

The list goes on, and on, and on.

Cooley Lands wins Blenheim CIC3* 2017, the only horse to make the time. Quality Purdey wins Haras de Pin CIC3* 2017 with an inside the time round to hold off Karim Laghouag and Entebbe de Hus who also finish on their dressage score. When Chris wins Burghley in 2017 on Nobilis, only Classic Moet was quicker.

Who is still reading? He has been doing this since forever.

Barbury Castle CIC3* 2016 saw 4 combinations make the time from the 45 pairs that completed the course. Chris and Polystar I were joint fastest with Sarah Cohen and Treason. Like Arville 2018. Chris won here too.

Saumur CCI3* 2016 No one made the optimum time of 11 minutes, but Chris and Santano II win with the fastest round, picking up 1.2 time penalties.

Belton CIC3* 2016: Chris led going into the final day at Belton with Nobilis 18, and only two of the 94 finishers made the optimum time of 6 minutes, 15 seconds on cross country. Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo finished one second inside, and Chris and Nobilis 18 finished two seconds inside with the fastest round of the day to take the win on their dressage score.

Hartpury CIC3* 2014: Chris likes Hartpury. Graf Liberty was here to defend the title. Of the 64 horses and riders that completed cross country, only Jonelle Price and Classic Moet and Chris and Graf Liberty finished inside the time. Chris took the win.

Adelaide CCI4* 2013: Chris gets a ride on TS Jamaimo in his native country’s four-star event. Just two combinations made the optimum time of 11 minutes, 23 seconds on cross country, including Chris and TS Jamaimo (Sonja Johnson and Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison were the other) to move up one spot on the leaderboard to sixth place. That fast cross country trip set them up to win the following day. As rails came tumbling down in show jumping, Chris and TS Jamaimo jumped clear to move up from sixth to finish in first place on their dressage score of 49.7. Not bad for a catch ride!

Hartpury CIC3* 2013: The time at Hartpury is notoriously difficult to make, but apparently not when you’re Burto. Of the 75 horses and riders that completed Hartpury’s cross country course in 2013, just one pair made the time: Chris and Tempranillo. That moved them up from sixth to take the win on their dressage score of 41.7.

Aachen CICO3* 2013: Chris also likes Aachen. In 2013 he brought Holstein Park Leilani. Heavy rains fell overnight and throughout the day, but Chris and Holstein Park Leilani prevailed. Not only were they the only combination to make the optimum time of 7 minutes, but they finished 13 seconds quicker than the next fastest horse to move up from third to win on their dressage score of 35.6.

Aachen CICO3* 2012: Eight horses and riders made the optimum time of 7 minutes, 7 seconds on cross country at Aachen in 2012, but Chris and Underdiscussion gained the most by making the time. Crossing the finish flags three seconds inside moved them up from third to first to take the win on 38.8.

We asked him which was his favourite:

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