Cooley Rosalent Rises to the Top of All-British Podium with Oliver Townend for Defender Kentucky CCI5* Victory

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. Photo by Tilly Berendt. Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Waking up this morning, a few scenarios ran through my head. In one, Tom McEwen or Yasmin Ingham took home the crown, each of them having somewhat of a comeback storyline when it comes to competing in Kentucky, having both come close to earning a victory here over the last few years. In another, top-ranked U.S. rider after cross country Mia Farley would climb to the top and achieve a feat no one would have ever predicted at the outset of the OTTB Phelps’ career. In a third, FEI World #1 Oliver Townend would somehow climb the board with the precocious 10-year-old Cooley Rosalent after starting Sunday in third place. To me, the first scenario was what I’d be writing about tonight.

Oliver Townend had other thoughts.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

A Win for the Superstar

We in the U.S. got our first glimpse of Diana and Paul Ridgeon’s Cooley Rosalent (Valent – Bellaney Jewel, by Roselier) last year at the Maryland 5 Star. She was a 9-year-old, and Oliver was quite high on her. Born to a dam who had won the Scottish Grand National, contributing a gallop and speed, and a show jumping sire who contributed scope and movement, “Rosie” had all the makings to be a star. Oliver described her when he first laid eyes on her as a four-year-old. “Is this fool’s gold?” he thought at the time. Surely a horse that could move as correctly as she did as a gangly young horse was too good to be true. Add in the Thoroughbred blood on the dam side and Oliver knew he might have something special on his hands.

At Maryland, the mare impressed, answering all the questions on Ian Stark’s cross country course to very nearly take the win in her CCI5* debut.

Oliver made a plan to bring the mare to Kentucky this year as he makes a bid for the upcoming Paris Olympics. But after scoring a 31.4 to go into 8th place after dressage, Oliver thought he might be disappointed on the plane ride home to not have been more competitive.

“I was fairly upset with myself after the dressage and looking at the last three times up until this we’ve always gone home with a win from here, so I kind of thought to myself that it’s gonna be a bit depressing going home on that plane and having not won,” Oliver said. “And then I sort of, you know, just gave myself a kick into gear and thought she’s a very good horse and I knew she was an incredible galloper both from the feel of her and from her pedigree. I had a plan in my head after Maryland last year. Again, I mucked that one up, she should have won that one and I got in her way in the show jumping. So I just had a very clear picture in my mind of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it and if it was gonna be my week, what will be will be. Just do my job and try and look after her for the future but also try and be as competitive as possible.”

He entered a buzzing Rolex Stadium (thankfully free of any bird of prey hunting today) as the third last to go, delivering a clear round to put pressure on the top two, who had no rails in hand.

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was then reigning world champion Yasmin Ingham‘s turn aboard Janette Chin and The Sue Davies Fund’s Banzai du Loir (Nouma D’Auzay – Gerboise du Cochet, by Livarot)., out for revenge after dropping out of contention in 2023 due to a penalty on cross country. She nearly did it, but lowered a rail at fence 8, which came just before the triple combination. This error might have given Tom a rail in hand had it not been for Oliver’s clear round, so as it stood the 2019 Pau winner entered on JL Dublin (Diarado – Zarinna by Canto), owned by James & Jo Lambert, and Mrs. Deirdre Johnston, without a cushion.

Tom was nearly home, but then it happened: the vertical at the penultimate fence, which had come down for four previous riders, rattled and clattered to the ground.

It had happened. The falling of two poles — one for Yasmin and one for Tom — would give Oliver Townend his fourth Kentucky victory and a win on the weekend his historic 100th CCI5* start.

“I was lucky that it didn’t go the other two guys ways,” Oliver joked in the press conference. “You know, they’re on very established and famously good jumping horses. The pressure was kind of off me in a way, which I quite enjoyed because normally it’s me going in there in Tom’s position and having a fence down sometimes. It swings in roundabouts.”

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Despite this success for Oliver, it’s hard not to feel for Tom and Yasmin, who once again will board a plane back to Kentucky without a trophy in hand (though a podium finish at a 5* is hardly a failure, but it’s no doubt hard to put it into this perspective with the pressure of Olympic selection looming).

“Dubs has been amazing,” Tom noted. “I really feel like this weekend we’ve really cemented our partnership. It’s just taken a bit longer. He’s such a nice, polite, kind character and Nicola has done the most extraordinarily great job with him. It’s just taken a little bit of time for me to find the path with him. And this weekend I thought he did the most incredible dressage test and I was a bit gutted with the mark that I came out with, I thought it should have been better, personally.”

“To be honest today with the show jumping,” he continued. “He’s a great jumper and it’s just one of those things. I’m sure I’ll beat myself up about it, but I’ve only got a week to do it and then back to Badminton. But for me, Dublin is the most crazy special. I mean, the dressage test sort of showed half of what he can produce. It’s been a lot better than it has been here, so that was that was a bit of a gutting shame. But yeah, I know on his day that actually he will wipe floors clean. So it’s very good and exciting coming up into an Olympic year that he’s put himself in a great position, and sort of onwards and upwards really.”

Yasmin echoed Tom’s disappointed pragmatism. “I think overall he jumped super today. We just had a really unlucky rub on an oxer. So overall, I’m delighted with him and unfortunately it wasn’t our day and these things happen for a reason and we’ll come out stronger next time. But I’m absolutely delighted with him from the beginning of the week until today, so it’s really exciting to be on a podium at five-star, the highest level in the sport. And of course, it’s a very important year so he’s feeling amazing and obviously we ‘will go away and work even harder is the next thing on the list.”

Notes and Notables

Malin Hansen Hotopp and Carlitos Quidditch K. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Finishing fourth in Carlitos Quidditch K‘s (Quiwi Dream – Amsterdam, by San Patrignano Cassini) first CCI5* is Germany’s Malin Hansen-Hotopp, who delivered the sole other double clear round today aside from Oliver’s to finish on a score of 37.9, moving from 10th place after cross country. I unfortunately did not get to catch up with Malin after her round, but will try to add some more perspective from her as she certainly experienced the weekend of a lifetime on her first trip to Kentucky.

The newly-crowned USEF National CCI5* Champion is Lauren Nicholson, who brought the cheeky Vermiculus (Serazim ox – Wake Me Gently xx by Be My Native xx), who is owned by the wonderfully supportive Ms. Jacqueline Mars, to Kentucky to contest his ninth CCI5* at the age of 17 years young. After a minor injury prompted Lauren to keep “Bug” on the sidelines for the majority of 2023, she brought him out with a very big goal looming in the back of her mind: a spot on the Olympic team for the USA.

Coming into Kentucky, Lauren kept her expectations realistic: Vermiculus hadn’t run at the level since 2022, when he was fourth at Luhmühlen. His most recent major outing was at the FEI World Championships for Eventing, where he and Lauren assisted team USA to a silver medal.

“I mean certainly we came feeling a touch rusty because he hasn’t had a proper big outing since Pratoni and especially because in his career he hasn’t actually missed a season before,” Lauren said. “So we certainly came here wanting to be competitive and he has the experience to do so.”

Lauren did lower one rail — the first element of the triple combination at 9 — but her finishing score of 39.0 was enough to secure fourth place and the National Championship ribbon.

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I would have liked to beat this lot,” Lauren said, gesturing to her left at the podium finishers. “But he certainly, not outperformed expectations, but I was just very pleased, especially for such the fan following he has — he’s such a character anyway — that I was able to deliver what he deserved to get on the day.”

This achievement is Lauren’s third time winning the USEF National CCI5* Championship, second only to Phillip Dutton. She’s won the award twice before with her 2016 Olympic partner, Veronica, in 2014 and 2016. Vermiculus is another horse sailing toward the tail end of a lengthy career at the top levels, a testament to the program Lauren has designed under the advice of her longtime mentors David and Karen O’Connor and the team she has surrounded herself and her horses with.

With this result, and with two potential Olympic hopefuls for the U.S. dealing with minor injuries, the race for U.S. team selection seems like it’s nearly been blown wide open with a little over a month to go before team selections begin rolling in.

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s not a bad feeling, but you know, I think all these guys can agree you get to a point your career that you don’t want to go just to get the completion,” Lauren said when asked for her thoughts on the Olympics. “I’m eager that the U.S. has such depth too. If I get put on [the team], I want to get put on because I’m going to contribute to bringing home a medal, not just to go there for fun. I think it’s going to be a really hard choice for selectors to make because the three person team certainly is going to be a heavy factor in that decision. So we’ve done what we can this weekend and done our job and now it’s just wait and see what’s in the cards.”

Buck Davidson and Sorocaima. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Also securing a competitive finish at Kentucky are Buck Davidson with the off-track Thoroughbred Sorocaima (Rock Hard Ten xx – Sankobasi xx, by Pulpit xx), who jumped a clear round with a few seconds’ worth of time to finish sixth on a score of 41.8.

“I thought if I took the top rail off every jump, I might have a chance,” he joked after his ride. “After we jumped through the triple I thought, ‘my god, I didn’t think we had a chance at that.’ I’m just so proud of him, all three phases he just did better than he can do. Two years ago, I think I had eight [rails] down and he just keeps trying.”

Sourced originally by Jill Henneberg and sent to Buck as a training or resale horse, “Cam” has become a barn favorite amongst the Davidson clan, carving out his place as a sleeper top prospect with this result. “He’s stronger, he’s more mature, he’s been there and done that now,” Buck described. “You can’t underestimate the heart of a Thoroughbred. I mean, they just try and try and try, and he never didn’t try, he just didn’t know how to do it.”

The Stats

Oliver Townend picks up his fourth Kentucky victory. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This year’s Steve Stephens-designed show jumping track stayed fairly on par with its statistical history, yielding only six clear rounds for a 26% clear rate and just a 9% double clear rate (Kentucky has averaged a 21% clear rate on Sunday over the past few seasons, according to EquiRatings).

Problems were scattered throughout the course with no real clear bogey fence, though the penultimate vertical came down for five riders and fence 3 also causing trouble for five riders. Time was also a factor: the time allowed of 1 minute, 20 seconds was not enough for 16 pairs.

There was one withdrawal between the trot-up this morning and show jumping: Ariel Grald made the decision not to jump with Leamore Master Plan, who had been in 31st place after cross country. “Although he passed the trot up, I ultimately decided to save him for the future,” Ariel told us. “He’s a horse of a lifetime and doesn’t owe me a thing!”

Oliver Townend now stands in line to become the third rider to capture the elusive Rolex Grand Slam (Pippa Funnell was the first rider to win in 2003, followed many years later by Michael Jung in 2016) with his win at Burghley aboard Ballaghmor Class. He’s entered at Badminton in two weeks’ with Tregilder and Ballaghmor Class — arguably his top chance to win the event and the Grand Slam.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this report said Ballaghmor Class had been withdrawn from Badminton, but we are unsure if this is true due to how Badminton is listing their entries. I’ve taken that out while we confirm the status.

The End of Another #BestWeekendAllYear

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s been an absolute pleasure following along with Kentucky alongside you this week. I have many stories I’d love to tell yet, so please stay tuned as I catch up on some of the conversations I missed out on this weekend.

I chatted briefly with an elated Joe Meyer, who brought the Meyer family’s and Theresa Foote’s Harbin (who reminds Joe very much of his famous former partner, Snip) to the 5* level for the first time and delivered two incredible clear jumping rounds — look for more on that later. James Alliston also enjoyed a stellar weekend with the debutant Karma, owned by Alliston Equestrian and Ric Plummer, also delivering a clear cross country and show jumping.

I’ll be telling these stories and more throughout the week upcoming in between Kentucky and Badminton, plus much more, so stay tuned and as always, Go Eventing.

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

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