Britain’s Oliver Townend clinched victory at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event yesterday (Sunday 25 April).
It is the third time in a row that the British rider has lifted the CCI5*-L title (Kentucky was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid), a feat only previously achieved by Germany’s Michael Jung.
It is a sixth top-level career win for Oliver and a second at this level for Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s Burghley 2017 champion Ballaghmor Class.
The Kentucky prize pot includes US$50,000 and a one-year lease of a 2021 Land Rover Discovery.
New Zealand’s husband and wife power couple Tim and Jonelle Price finished second and third respectively — Tim aboard Xavier Faer and Jonelle with Grovine De Reve — and were the only riders to finish on their dressage score.
American Boyd Martin (On Cue) filled fourth while Jonelle also piloted Classic Moet into seventh, behind Britain’s Harry Meade (Superstition) and Australian Kevin McNab (Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam) in fifth and sixth.
Three Americans rounded off the top 10: Phillip Dutton (Z – eighth), Tamra Smith (Mai Baum – ninth) and Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp (Deniro Z) in 10th.
‘It was rough and tumble’
Riders experienced all weathers across the weekend — even waking up to snow on the morning of the first horse inspection — and Saturday’s cross-country phase was an extremely wet day. From 61 starters, 15 horses were eliminated on course — including William Fox-Pitt’s Oratorio — and one was retired.
By the time Oliver and Ballaghmor Class left the startbox, it had been raining heavily for some time. The grey lost a shoe at fence seven and, consequently, Oliver said that he tried to protect the horse around the slippery turns.
The duo finished with two time-faults to add and took the lead.
“He’s an unbelievable cross-country machine. With a shoe he could have been ten or 12 seconds inside the time without any sweat,” said Oliver of the Irish gelding.
“I’d love to be stylish and ride the round I’d like to ride, but it wasn’t meant to be this time. It was rough and tumble and start and stop, and just trying to keep him on his feet.”
Oliver also praised the horse’s “tenacity, ability, strength, and complete robustness to do the performance he did” in such difficult conditions.
The rider also brought Cooley Master Class — the horse on whom he took the title in 2018 and 2019 — home clear to lie third overnight. However, the horse, who picked up a stud injury the day before, was eliminated at the final horse inspection.
“For me this was the toughest cross-country course for a long time at this level. It’s right up there with the very toughest in the world,” said Oliver,
“Both horses had a tough enough time out there. I’m still very emotional about how amazing they both are. They’ve both literally given me their heart and soul today.”
‘We miss the crowd, but the pressure is still on’
On the final day, the top eight horses were within a rail of the lead and by the time Oliver cantered into the empty stadium only a fault-free round would secure victory.
“I had a plan and just went in and did it,” said Oliver. “[Ballaghmor Class] was jumping exceptionally, which makes my job very, very easy. My biggest concern was that I find it easy to have time penalties with him.
“He’s a big jumper and actually quite slow in the way he does things. It’s easy to get stuck in gear. My biggest thing was to have a good strong pace, don’t be caught on time, and just try and get him in a position to clear the fences.”
Despite the absence of any spectators — a Covid preventative measure — Oliver said there was still an atmosphere to contend with in the stadium.
“It is the most special stadium in the world for eventing,” he said. “When you go in, whether it’s full to the brim or it’s completely empty, there is still a very strong aura because this place is so special.
“Going down the chute [to enter] when there are thousands of people watching or no one watching, the pressure is still on. Of course, we love a big crowd, we love to perform in front of the crowd, and we miss the crowd, but at the same time it took nothing away from the competition.”