Following in the footsteps of legendary names is never easy, but Derek Di Grazia is focused on evolution not revolution after taking the reins from Captain Mark Phillips as course designer at Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
Phillips had carved out courses amid the rolling Lincolnshire hills for over 30 years across three stints before vacating the saddle in 2019 and making way for Di Grazia.
Burghley returns to the eventing calendar for the first time since 2019 after two years away due to Covid-19, with anticipation higher than ever for one of Britain’s biggest equestrian events.
American Di Grazia also boasts the Tokyo Olympic course and the 5* Kentucky Three-Day Event on his designing CV, before adding Burghley to his star-studded list.
And the 66-year-old insists he hasn’t reinvented the wheel for his inaugural effort at the storied event but believes there’s still plenty for spectators to get excited about.
“I wasn’t going to try and change everything in the first year,” said Di Grazia. “I was going to let the course evolve over time which to me is a better way of doing things.
“I first had to come in to understand the whole site and understand where I could and couldn’t go.
“There are a lot of feature fences that have been here for a long time, and it was a matter of how I was going to really use them.
“There are some small changes, all the combinations are different, all the single fences are different and so I think it’s quite a different course than it was in 2019.”
Di Grazia was originally meant to make his Burghley bow in 2021, after the legendary Captain Phillips announced 2020 would be his last in charge of the world-famous course.
But the Covid-19 pandemic forced a delay and made California-based Di Grazia’s challenge even more difficult.
The 2022 event will only be Di Grazia’s fifth time making the trip from California to Lincolnshire, but he feels confident in the course that has been put together.
“I came here in 2020 one time and then everything closed down, so I actually wasn’t able to come here until November 2021,” added Di Grazia.
“That was my first time and coming to my event is my fifth visit, but every visit has been very productive, the people have been wonderful to work with and we’ve got quite a lot done.
“Every site is different, and you have to take every site on its own to try to use the terrain in the best way possible and to use the site in the best way possible.
“I always look at each course and try to develop a flow and obviously there are features that are on each course that you have to figure out where they’re going to come in the course.
“Burghley has quite a lot of terrain which it’s known for, I’ve designed in places where there is a lot of terrain so I’m quite comfortable with that.”
Burghley returns to the eventing calendar bigger and better than ever for 2022, and Di Grazia admitted there is something special about the event set amongst the backdrop of 16th-century Burghley House.
“It’s an amazing place to design, the footing here is second to none, it’s so well taken care of and I’m very happy to be here,” said Di Grazia.
“To me, it’s one of the best in the world and very unique. I think that everybody that wants to do a 5*, wants to come to Burghley.
“I want to see the horses go round well, I want to see the riders and the horses have a good experience here and if that comes with clears then I think that’s what we’re going to end up with.”
Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (1-4 September 2022) returns after a two-year hiatus, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A major international sporting and social event for over 50 years it attracts 80 of the world’s top equestrians and over 170,000 visitors. For more information visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk