35-year-old Oli was lying in sixth place after the dressage on the 10-year-old, Ballaghmor Class, with a score of 40.2.
Last to go in the cross-country phase, the pressure was on for Oli after the course was proving to be challenging and more than shaking up the leader board.
After an unfortunate fall in Discovery Valley, Mark Todd’s hopes of staying in first position were soon dashed after Leonidas pitched on landing, throwing Todd over the front. Thankfully both came away unharmed.
New Zealander, Tim Price had a run out on his first ride Xavier Faer, but finished the cross country in fourth on his second ride, Ringwood Sky Boy. A time fault and a fence in the final showjumping phase saw him finish the event in fifth position, behind Tom McEwen.
Zara Tindall was unfortunately eliminated after a fall at the final part of the Trout Hatchery on High Kingdom, alongside Andrew Nicholson who fell on his first ride, Qwanza at the second part of Storm Doris.
However it was Michael Jung that shocked the crowd after he retired La Biosthetique – Sam FBW at the Trout Hatchery, leaving the top spots open for others.
Despite being a young horse, not well established at this level, Oli Townend’s ride stormed the cross-country phase, just one second over the optimum time, soaring them up to the top of the leader board, with Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul close behind.
With a major shake up to the leader board after the second day, there was all to play for in the final phase and the show jumping arena was buzzing with excitement.
Despite having one fence down and collecting a time fault, Townend pipped Piggy French and Vanir Kamira to the post after they jumped clear to pile the pressure on Oli, leaving the audience waiting with baited breath.
“He’s a young horse who’s not established at this level,” said 35-year-old Oli Townend.
“He’s a 10-year-old and it’s probably very early for him to be here, but we have no worry ability-wise, and we have no worry with his jumping confidence, so we thought, why not? He’s still weak, he’s still babyish, he finds it difficult to hold himself there for that length of time, but I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Welling up as he paid tribute to his ride, Oli spoke fondly of the 10-year-old:
“Ballaghmor Class is different to what I’ve sat on for a lot of years, and he’s come here and proved it.”
“I’ve been saying it all week, probably to convince myself more than anyone else, that it is the right thing. A few people told me I shouldn’t have brought him here, and I just thought what am I listening to these people for, because I know horses and I know what he can cope with.”
“I looked around the collecting ring and thought to myself ‘I wouldn’t swap him for anything else here’.”
Pulling a faultless clear round out the bag, Piggy French and Vanir Kamira rose from fifth to finish second after the show jumping.
Piggy, who has just returned to competition this spring after a year off having her son Max, spoke of her glory:
“I came to Burghley hoping for a top 10 finish, which I’ve not managed to achieve here before. Burghley is the toughest four star and its a dream come true to do well.”
Close behind was Gemma Tattersall who dropped from second to third after an unfortunate pole at the penultimate fence.
“So close yet so far! A stupid touch of an upright, but Arctic Soul is an incredible horse that doesn’t owe me anything and to be third at Burghley is amazing!”
Tom McEwen took fourth to complete an all-British four top with Toledo De Kerser and Tim Price with Ringwood Sky Boy following in fifth.
The top 10 placings also saw Brits, Kirstina Cook and Star Witness in seventh, along with Izzy Taylor and Trevidden in ninth.
Huge thanks to Nico Morgan for the photos.