Lexington, Ky.—April 24
Oliver Townend set out on course this morning at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L with Ballaghmor Class aiming to make the optimum time of 11 minutes, but when he heard the gelding’s front shoe come off at fence 7, he knew he’d have to nurse him a bit to have a safe go as the rain poured.
While he jokingly described his ride as “horrible,” Townend and the 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Courage II—Kilderry Place) made it home quick and fast, adding 0.8 time penalties, moving up from fifth after dressage to take the lead on an exciting day.
Townend, the world No. 1 event rider, described Derek di Grazia’s course as twisty and turny.
“[It’s a] tough course already—so I had to mind him a lot and go like a bat out of hell coming home, but he’s just shown what a tough, exceptionally top-class horse he is,” he said. “With the shoe on he could have been 10 seconds inside the time. It’s not just minding him, it’s also the gear changes—I’ve had to go, whoa, whoa, whoa through the turns like after the Hollow [fences 16 and 17AB]. I was very slow down there, then get on a straight line, go like hell, go through the turn, go as fast as I can. It’s been a horrible, rough ride that I wouldn’t want to repeat, but at the same time, he’s just shown how exceptional he is. He’s probably one of the best I’ve sat on, and he’s done it for me again, thank God.”
Townend’s been around the biggest courses in the world, and he ranked today’s course as one of the toughest he’s seen in awhile. “We often think in England in comparison to Burghley and Badminton that Kentucky is more of a flat track, and it’s completely wrong. It’s got undulations; different undulations to the likes of Burghley, but for me, today was the toughest cross-country course for a long, long time at five-star level.”
Watch Townend’s ride via USEF Network.
Ballaghmor Class is one of the top horses in the world, having won his five-star debut at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI5*-L (England) in 2017 and finishing in the top five at every other five-star start he’s had. But Townend is careful to not be too confident. He’s only got 0.5 penalties to play with heading into tomorrow’s show jumping.
“I never come to these five-stars thinking, ‘This is mine.’ Five-stars are very difficult to ride, and there’s a lot of exceptional riders that don’t win one. Every time I come here, I feel very lucky and just hope I do my job for them,” he said.
Townend also rode his 2018 and 2019 Kentucky winner Cooley Master Class into eighth.
Overnight leaders Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous jumped a clear round, but added 28.4 time penalties to plummet down the leaderboard to 32nd. Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, sitting 0.1 behind Little, had a classy round, but added 11 penalties for knocking a frangible pin at 24A, the first part of the Park Question coffin, leaving them in 18th.
Boyd Martin’s first ride, on five-star first timer Long Island T, ended with a fall at the Head Of The Lake, and his last ride on Tsetserleg TSF, who was in contention for the lead, ended with a fall at 26B, the Mighty Moguls. Between them, his other five-star rookie, On Cue, impressed in her debut, finishing with 0.8 time penalties to move from seventh after dressage into second place.
“I’m a bit stiff and sore, but Tim [Price] said he was going to give me a massage tonight! The horses are fine, and I got checked over by the doctor, and I’m good to go,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned from watching guys like Tim and Oliver, if you want to win, you’ve got to have a crack at it. You can’t save them; you can’t take an option. In my opinion, I’d rather fail trying to win it than just tippy toeing around. It worked one time today, but it didn’t work the other two! But that’s the sport. There’s no shame in going for it. I think a couple times a year at the big ones like this—if I want to win this one day, you’ve got to throw caution to the wind and go as fast as you can, and it will be what it will be.”
“It is a huge relief,” Martin said at the finish. “I crashed my first horse sadly, and it does not give you the world of confidence getting on the next horse, but On Cue is such a class animal. She is a real trier, a great galloper, and she’s got a heart of gold, so I was thrilled with her round. I was surprised she got a little bit tired early, but like I said before, she is a fighter, and she kept digging deep. She sort of got a second wind after the Quarry.”
Four pairs made the time: Great Britain’s Harry Meade (Superstition), New Zealand’s Tim Price (Xavier Faer), Jonelle Price (Classic Moet) and Australia’s Kevin McNab (Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam).
Watch Martin’s round via USEF Network.
While Jonelle Price didn’t make time on any of her three rides, she was consistently one of the fastest riders of the day, coming in just 1 second over with Grovine De Reve and 3 seconds over with her 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (England) winner Classic Moet. With the latter, she made the day’s biggest move up the standings—33 places—from 46th after dressage to 13th heading into show jumping.
Fence 26B, a log, and the second element of the last combination on course, proved a heartbreaker. William Fox-Pitt, Mike Pendleton and Martin were eliminated there, just three fences from home. Fox-Pitt and Oratorio were on track for one of the faster rounds of the day when they fell there early in the day; rookie Pendleton was within shouting distance of completing his first five-star cross-country course, while Martin and his final ride, Tsetserleg TSF, were in contention for the lead when they suffered the same fate near the end of the day.
Time penalties proved the undoing of the overnight dressage leaders and the main factor in reshuffling the standings.
Two five-star rookies, Emily Hamel with Corvett and Ema Klugman with Bendigo, each turned in impressive rookie performances, notching 8 time penalties each to each move 30 places up the standings, to 26th and 31st place, respectively.
Two riders withdrew before cross-country: Colleen Rutledge with Covert Rights, and Hawley Bennett-Awad with Jollybo, leaving 61 to start and 45 that completed.
Thirty-seven horses finished clean with time penalties; four finished with one stop. There was one retirement, when Buck Davidson decided to call it a day after Erroll Gobey stopped going into the water at Fence 4A, MARS Sustainability Bay. Fifteen horses were eliminated, including:
• Seven rider falls: Will Coleman and Dondante, Martin and Long Island T, Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes, Daniela Moguel and Cecelia, Allison Springer and Business Ben, Clayton Fredericks and FE Stormtrooper
• Seven horse falls: Oratorio and Fox-Pitt, Mike Pendleton and Steady Eddie, Lillian Heard and LCC Barnaby, Zoe Crawford and K.E.C. Zara, Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride and Favian, Jennie Brannigan and Stella Artois, and Martin with Tsetserleg TSF
• Two technical eliminations: Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot and Nilson Moreira Da Silva on Magnum Martini.
For full results, click here.
The Chronicle of the Horse will be on-site all week for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event bringing you reports from each round of competition, beautiful photos and stories from the competitors. Follow along with all of our coverage here, and be sure to read our May 17 Kentucky Results issue for more in-depth coverage and analysis of the event.