Lexington, Ky.—April 27
As Oliver Townend galloped Cooley Master Class around the gelding’s first-five star at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event last year, it was easy to tell the horse was green to the level. With thousands of people lining the ropes at every fence, and with fences bigger and scopier than he’d ever seen, it was a big step up.
Despite his greenness, he ended up winning, and he and Townend are well on their way to victory again this year, leading after cross-country with a much more confident round to finish with 1.2 time penalties.
“He’s come out a lot keener this time than he was last time, and he felt quite strong in places, but at the same time he was definitely up for it,” said Townend of the 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Ramiro B—The Swallow, Master Imp) owned by Angela Hislop. “He had his ears pricked the whole way. Even when he made his own mind up over a few things, he was looking for the flags and put himself between them with me on a slightly longer rein than I like—I a little bit felt he was more in control than I was, but he knew his job today, and he seems to have found a place he loves after last year, and that’s why we brought him back here.”
“Coolio” lost a shoe early on, so Townend rode a bit more conservatively around some turns and took one planned long route at the Normandy Bank at 20ABC.
Watch Townend’s round via USEF Network.
“He was definitely up for it today, more so than I’ve possibly ever felt him, but at the same time it didn’t seem to matter what distance he was on, ears pricked, and he got his legs out of the way,” he said. “He’s coming into his own a little bit—this is only his second four-star—and he definitely felt like he knew more about the job this time than he did last time around. He’s enjoyed [competing] this year, probably more so than I have to a certain extent. He basically dusted the dressage and ran off with me on cross-country, but at the same time you know the horse is very close to our heart and the whole of the team loves him. He’s a bit of a yard favorite, and he’ll stay that way after performances like this.”
Townend won’t have much breathing room tomorrow as Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg blazed around Derek di Grazia’s course to move into second place with one of four rounds inside the optimum time of 11 minutes 20 seconds. Martin hopes to knock Townend off the top spot and become the first U.S. rider to win their hometown five-star since Phillip Dutton did in 2008 with Connaught.
“He gave me a fantastic ride,” said Martin of “Thomas,” a 12-year-old Trakehner gelding (Windfall—Thabana, Buddenbrock) owned by Christine Turner. “I didn’t want to say it out loud when I walked it, but I thought the course walked a bit easy this year. I was very surprised when there was so much trouble, and I quickly realized how wrong I was. It was quite a tough course.
“My guy felt a lot more seasoned this year,” he continued. “I feel like we’re a bit more of a partnership. He’s a real trier. For a sort of half-bred horse he’s got a wonderful gallop. He’s got plenty of speed, and he’s very fit. Throughout the course he just kept trying and trying and trying and never looked for a way out.”
Martin was one of few who took the straight route at 20ABC, and he joked that he had a bet going with Dutton, who’s currently in fourth with a double-clear round on Z.
“I was stabled next to Phillip Dutton, and before we got on we were sort of egging each other to see who was going to do the Normandy Bank,” he said. “I wasn’t sure he was going to do it, and when I heard the commentator say that he did it when I was warming up I thought, ‘Ah, I have to do it now or I’ll be a wimp if I go around.’ I could have seriously backfired, but he’s a good little horse. He’s a gusty little trier, and he had plenty left in the end, and I couldn’t be happier with him.”
New Zealand’s Tim Price has been around two other five-stars with Xavier Faer, but the 13-year-old British Sport Horse gelding (Catherston Liberator—Faerie Dazzler, Catherston Dazzler), gave him a fabulous double-clear ride around to move into third place.
“Hugo” also lost a shoe but seemed to have no trouble.
“I had a good trip around on my horse,” said Price. “I was really happy with the fitness. When you come across you just have to be so much more on your game. I think it walked demanding. There’s no way to just keep coasting and to quietly make up your time and regain your horse’s composure. He just threw himself over everything. Sometimes he’s not the most organized, but he’s trying his hardest, and we stayed upright and made it home.”
Hugo had a quiet year in 2018 after recovering from a fractured leg and then a soft tissue injury, so Price made sure to mentally prepare himself by watching his previous five-star performances on an iPad to remind himself what the gelding is capable of.
“He’s a galloper, honest at the fences,” he said. “He’s had mistakes in the past but not through lack of honesty, so I just had to do my best to get him to the fences in a way he could jump them. The last time I was here I fell two from home, and that was in the back of my head coming home. There were a few places I slipped, and I did put in bigger studs after watching other people slip. It’s definitely a place to bring a very fit horse.”
“You never know what riders are going to do going into these days,” said di Grazia. “A lot of people opted to take some of the longer routes, which is good. I think for the most part the jumps worked in the ways I thought they would. A lot of the combinations had a variation of stride between the obstacles, and it let the riders choose. The options were a little bit longer, but they weren’t terribly longer. I gave them a little bit of a break, so they didn’t always feel they had to go the hard way.”
Forty-one horses were scheduled to leave the start box today, and 31 finished. The day was off to an inauspicious start with the first two combinations came to grief at 20ABC. Both Caroline Martin (Islandwood Captain Jack) and Buck Davidson (Park Trader) fell after they tried riding the direct route from the bank to the corner (the B element) afterwards. Davidson broke his collarbone in the fall and withdrew his other two rides Jak My Style and Copper Beech. Caroline Martin was uninjured in her fall but withdrew her second ride Danger Mouse after feeling that she wasn’t prepared to ride her best on a greener mount. Mara DePuy withdrew Congo Brazzaville C after the gelding felt sore from a skin infection.
Liz Halliday-Sharp, who was tied for fifth after dressage with Deniro Z, had a heartbreaking fall at fence 3, an open table. The only other fall on course came on the flat, when Colleen Loach’s Qorry Blue D’Argouges slipped turning following Pete’s Hollow at 13ABC, and both went down.
Two riders retired on course: Hallie Coon had a pair of refusals at the Head of the Lake (17ABCD/18ABC) with Celien, and Sharon White put her hand up after Cooley On Show refused twice at the Mars Sustainability Bay (5ABCD).
Will Coleman was the fourth rider to finish inside the time with Tight Lines, but they knocked a flag at 11A, a narrow in the water at the Rolex Grand Slam Challenge, and were awarded 15 penalties for the horse’s hindquarters not passing through the flag under the new flag rule.
Erin Sylvester (Paddy The Caddy), Hazel Shannon (WillingaPark Clifford) and Daniela Moguel (Cecelia) each picked up a stop apiece. Dom Schramm added 31 jump penalties to his dressage score with Bolytair B after they had a stop and broke a frangible pin at fence 3.
For more detailed results on how the day played out, check the Chronicle’s “As It Happens” live blog. “As It Happens” live blog.
The second horse inspection will happen tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. and show jumping begins at 1 p.m.
We’re on site at the Kentucky Horse Park to bring you all the info and photos you need to know from the biggest event of the year. Check back all weekend at coth.com and be sure to pick up the May 20 print edition of the Chronicle for much more.