Defending champion Andrew Nicholson is feeling confident and relaxed ahead of the four-star Burghley International Horse Trials - and that can only spell trouble for his competitors at the famous Lincolnshire grounds.
The world's top-ranked three- day eventer is also highly motivated, despite having already secured the FEI Classics series and the US$150,000 (NZ$192,600) bonus for dominating the six four- star events in the world during the 2012-13 season.
At 52, and in the form of his life, simply winning every event he competes in is good enough motivation for the Kiwi. But there are also financial incentives - the Burghley champion pockets [PndStlg]60,000 (NZ$119,800) and the world No 1 at the end of the season receives a US$50,000bonus.
"Another win is very much the top priority," Nicholson, who added last year's Burghley title to his victories in 1995 and 2000, said from his home in Wiltshire. "The prize money and the prestige of winning Burghley is enough in itself but there's also the world ranking points and the grand slam."
Most riders - apart from perhaps fellow Kiwi Jock Paget - wouldn't even be thinking about the grand slam right now but it shows the sort of form Nicholson has been in during the past 18 months.
The grand slam is winning Burghley, Badminton and Kentucky in succession, and comes with a lucrative US$350,000 bonus. It's only been achieved once, in 2003 by Englishwoman Pippa Funnell, though Nicholson was incredibly close after winning Burghley last year, Kentucky in April and then finishing third at Badminton in May, an event won by Paget.
"At the moment Jock is the only one who can do that slam after winning Badminton so I've got to win Burghley to put a stop to his roll and put me in with a chance at (Kentucky) and Badminton next year," said Nicholson, who has won four of the past five four-star events he has competed in.
"It's important to have that dream. That's what motivates us. And I don't want Jock beating me again, he doesn't want to overdo it," he said, laughing.
Nicholson and Paget, the world No5, have their top horses at Burghley and will lead the Kiwi charge, starting tonight (NZ time).
Nicholson said his 2012 champion Avebury and his No 1, Nereo, who was second at Burghley in 2011, fourth at the Olympics and won the Pau four-star in France last year, were "fully tuned up and ready".
"I'm happy with the way they've been going. They're the most experienced ones I've got and they've been very consistent."
He also has a third ride, Calico Joe, who he reckoned would have a chance if he could put it together in the showjumping, his weakest discipline. Calico Joe was third at the Kentucky four-star in April.
Paget, 29, has been gearing towards Burghley since his Badminton triumph in May, and will ride his champion horse Clifton Promise as well as Clifton Lush, who claimed the three-star British Open Championship last month.
"The horses are feeling good to go," Paget said yesterday.
"I would dearly love to add another four-star win to the CV, more than anything.
"Yes, I'm confident, but in this game, and at this level, anything can happen, so you're never overly confident."
There are six other Kiwis among the 73 runners, including five-times Burghley champion Sir Mark Todd, who is riding two inexperienced horses, Oloa and Ravenstar.
World No 2 William Fox-Pitt of Britain, a six-times Burghley champion, is the main threat to the Kiwis. He has two rides - Neuf des Coeurs and Parklane Hawk, who won in 2011 - and was third at the European championships last weekend.
"The field's probably a little weaker than usual because the European championships have just finished," Nicholson said.
"It has knocked out a lot of the European riders who are very good but only have one good horse. But it will still be incredibly tough this week."
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