Equestrian: Nicholson riding high heading into Burghley

By David Leggat

He's already set to pocket US$150,000 for winning the Classics series, but easing off isn't part of the vocabulary for world No 1 eventer Andrew Nicholson ahead of the final big event of the season, at Burghley next week.

As defending champion, the Waikato horseman is enjoying the best years of his career.

There's a 60,000 ($119,617) first prize at stake at Burghley, in Lincolnshire, and he has three strong entries - Avebury, on whom he won the title for a third time last year, kicking off a stellar 12 months, Calico Joe and the horse he feels is his best bet at the moment, Nereo.

Personal pride plays a part too. Nicholson wants to win simply because it is one of the great three-day events, one in which New Zealand has a proud record. In addition to his three titles, Mark Todd has won it five times, Blyth Tait twice and Caroline Powell achieved it in 2010.

"The fact I've already won the Classics doesn't take any pressure off," Nicholson said from his home near Marlborough in Wiltshire, yesterday. "Burghley is Burghley and I'm putting pressure on myself to win it again. At the moment I'm No 1 in the world and there's a cash prize for that at the end of the season so I need a very good result to keep myself up there.

I've pretty much still got the foot on the gas and it's good to have that pressure, because that's what it is all about."

Nicholson has an uncatchable 55 points in the six-part Classic series of four-star premier events, after three wins and a third placing - and he skipped the Adelaide leg last November - with strong rival, Britain's William Fox-Pitt on 36 and fellow New Zealander, and Badminton winner, Jock Paget third on 27 points. There are 15 points on offer for the winner, 12 for second and 10 for third.

Nicholson has yet to check out the layout for the crosscountry, but he knows the terrain well and prefers to wait until he arrives to walk the course rather than "get too many ideas beforehand" by looking at photos or a screen shot.

He's happy with preparations of his three entries but knows some of his toughest challenges could come from other New Zealanders. Seven other Kiwi riders are lining up, including double Olympic champion Todd, who has two rides, Oloa and Ravenstar; Paget, with his top-class pair Clifton Promise and Clifton Lush; and a fourth member of NZ's bronze-medal London Olympic team, Jonelle Richards, on two well-performed horses, The Deputy and Flintstar.

"They're all looking a bit good to be honest," Nicholson, 52, laughed. "It's very exciting times, and it's great for New Zealand eventing and New Zealand sport."

Of his rides next week on the grounds of the stately home, Nicholson admits to a "soft spot" for Nereo, whom he also rode to an unlucky fourth at the Olympics.

"Avebury is a very consistent performer and quite capable of winning it again. But for me, Nereo is still a little bit better."

Certainly it would be a classic way to end a remarkable year.

- NZ Herald

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