Chris Burton: The Speed King

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With speed largely expected to play a key role on cross country at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, EquiRatings is looking to riders with a consistent record of not only making the optimum time but being the fastest on course. With eight key three-star and four-star wins on eight different horses over the past five season, Australia’s Chris Burton has risen to the top as one of the fastest riders in the sport. How has Chris achieved this?

Sam Watson explains: “Producing the fastest times in top level eventing requires understanding, maneuverability, agility, bravery, responsiveness and trust. In a word: partnership. Some of the great speedsters in the modern eventing era ooze these qualities. Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam, Andrew Nicholson and Avebury, and Jonelle Price and Classic Moet all have demonstrated masterclasses in cross country efficiency and speed,” Sam says.

“What seems remarkable about the stats produced by Chris Burton is that he has partnered such a high number of horses to win big events whilst demonstrating unrivalled speed, some in their first attempt at the level (Polystar I at Barbury 2016) and others in his first event with the horse (TS Jamaimo at Adelaide 2013). The current world number two still seems to be on an upward curve, but he has already firmly established himself as one of the fastest riders in the game.”

What’s Burto’s secret? We went straight to Chris for the answer: “I liken riding fast on cross country to Formula One driving because you can’t teach someone when to brake or how hard to push the brake. You have to feel it through experience. And like Formula One driving, the fastest lap time is the one with a lot of flow, so it often looks smooth and slow. A lot of time is won and lost with a smart line.

“I also like to have my horses really on my aids when schooling so I don’t feel like I am braking or accelerating hard,” Chris continues. “If I need it, braking and accelerating is happening with the lightest touch.”

By utilizing these techniques, Chris has clinched eight key wins on eight different horses over the past five years. We’re taking an in-depth look at each win, specifically how speed made all the difference.

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.

Aachen CICO3* 2013: Chris returned to Aachen the next year to defend his title, this time with 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.

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.

Adelaide CCI4* 2013: Chris concluded his dominant 2013 season by competing 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* 2014: The following year saw Chris return to Hartpury to defend his title, this time on Graf Liberty. Once again the optimum time of 7 minutes, 44 seconds proved very difficult to make. 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, which moved them up from third to win on their dressage score of 44.2.

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 second inside with the fastest round of the day to take the win on their dressage score of 34.5.

Saumur CCI3* 2016: Chris and Santano II led Saumur after dressage on 40.2 and defended their lead the following day on cross country with the fastest round. No one made the optimum time of 11 minutes, but Chris and Santano II crossed the finish flags with the fastest round, finishing just three seconds over to pick up 1.2 time penalties. That set them up to take the win the next day, giving Chris and Santano II enough breathing room to have one rail down in show jumping and still finish in first place on a final score of 45.4.

Barbury Castle CIC3* 2016: Chris sat atop the Barbury leaderboard with Polystar I heading into cross country, and he defended the lead with yet another fast cross country trip. Of the 45 pairs that completed the course, just four made the time, and Chris and Polystar I were joint fastest with Sarah Cohen and Treason. Both of them finished three seconds inside the optimum time of 7 minutes, which gave Chris and Polystar the win on their dressage score of 42.2.

Which win stands out to Chris the most? “Leilani’s win at Aachen in 2013 was my most memorable,” he says. “She wasn’t a natural fast galloper, although she had a huge stride. But it was the last run of her career before we retired her, and we knew each other very well at this stage. It had rained a huge amount and nobody had made the time, and that is how she won it.”

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