The class was won by Rebecca Court and her ultra-consistent Beware Chalk Pit – aka Perfect Pete – who qualified at Bury Farm in June and will be making his third appearance at the HOYS final next month. Rebecca has had a great season with Pete, standing reserve supreme amateur riding horse champion at the Longines Royal International Horse Show in July.
Runner-up to them at Burghley was Oliver Hood and Yvonne Botham’s Royal Rock, who had taken the same spot at Stretcholt in May, where they booked their HOYS place.
The first ticket to the prestigious final went to third-placed Donna Bamonte and Valentine Jak. This made up in part for an abortive attempt to qualify earlier in the season.
“We were loaded and ready to head to Bury Farm on the morning of the show there but the horse box decided it had a flat battery and wouldn’t start,” said Donna, who lives in Kentisbeare, near Cullompton in Devon. “To say we were gutted would be an understatement!”
But a malfunctioning lorry isn’t the worst disaster she has faced – in 2013, on the way home from HOYS, her horse Steveys Lad was killed when the horsebox he was in was involved in a collision on the M5.
“I was offered Valentine Jack on loan in December after losing Stevey, and he became such a comfort to me,” said Donna. “Jak and I formed a bond really quickly so I asked his owner if she would consider letting me buy him. Jak is loved by everyone so it would be hard for anyone to part with him but I was allowed to buy him a year later. I couldn’t believe he was actually mine.
“Jak is such an easy horse to do- friendly, kind and trustworthy. He’s great to handle on the ground and lovely to ride, with fluent paces and a mouth of silk.”
The 14-year-old gelding’s results would appear to bear that out: he has qualified for HOYS for the past five years and was placed in three of them.
“I feel so lucky once more to be part of this prestigious final with my horses,” said Donna, who previously worked in racing and rode as an amateur jockey. “I have always been a big advocate of SEIB and all the good work it does, and these classes give me a drive and focus as well as a goal to aim for.”
Having something to aim for was even more important for the second qualifier, Charlotte Salisbury, who was fifth with The Lodge Road behind the already-qualified What Of It (Hannah Horton). Charlotte bought the Irish-bred nine-year-old in 2014, having lost her previous horse, Mickey Croke.
“I wanted another ex-racer because they’re so addictive,” admitted Charlotte, who lives near Lancaster. “We searched high and low for another racehorse then Jayne Pimbley, from whom I got Mickey, told me she had one in. When I first saw him I really didn’t like him but we decided to try him.”
When she got “Toddy” – named for his former trainer Martin Todhunter – home and into his stable, he was terrified of everything. She phoned Martin to find out what the horse had been like in training.
“He said he was a belter at home and trained fantastic, but the minute you put him into the horsebox to travel to a race he’d go wild,” recalled Charlotte. “By the time he got to the track he’d just lose his head and that’s why he didn’t do very well.”
She persevered and the gelding settled, learning to load quietly and, most importantly, learning to trust his new owner.
“He’s so loving and he’s become like a pet – ” I love him to bits,” said Charlotte. “Mickey was already set up for me but with Toddy I’ve started from a blank canvas, so it means more to me than anything in the four years I’ve had him and it’s been my dream to qualify him for HOYS.”
That dream, however, started from a nightmare, three weeks before the qualifier at Burghley, Charlotte’s nine-month-old daughter, Felicity, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma and is on a six-month course of chemotherapy.
“It’s been horrendous; hell on earth,” said Charlotte. “She has the cancer in both eyes, and it’s so rare. She’s already lost the vision in the left eye but we’re desperately hoping the chemo will work. The chances are quite high, so we’re just hoping and praying.”
Of course, the last thing on her mind was going to Burghley, but she decided to go on the advice of Felicity’s Macmillan nurse.
“She told me to go -” she said it was important to carry on and have a bit of a break,” she explained. “I thought I’d just come fifth so when I was told I’d qualified for HOYS I was like, no I haven’t. Then I was, Oh my God, you’re right, I’ve qualified. To come fifth was incredible but to qualify on top was mega.
“Felicity will be at HOYS to watch her mum,” added Charlotte. “It was meant to be. With what’s going on at home with Felicity, somebody was looking over me today.”