He’ll take three, please! Great Britain’s Oliver Townend meant business when he sent in his two entries for this year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian, and he sealed the deal aboard the horse that had yet to claim a victory (or make a trip) here: Angela Hislop, Karyn Schuter and Val Ryan’s Ballaghmor Class (Courage II – Kilderry Place). Today he equals Germany’s Michael Jung as the second rider in Kentucky history to win the event three times in a row.
As is typical on Sunday afternoon during Kentucky, you could hear a pin drop in Rolex Stadium as the standings ticked down and the rails continued to fall. As was the theme this morning in the CCI4*-S, Steve Stephen’s track tested the horses fresh off an equally trying cross country track – as such, just seven riders of the 44 remaining starters produced double clear rounds.
This meant Oliver Townend entered the ring under an immense amount of pressure. This isn’t something he’s unfamiliar with – he’s not had a rail to spare in all three of these Kentucky wins, and each time he delivered a clear round inside the time. When asked about the pressure, it was clear that Oliver all but embraces it.
“Tim has me under pressure every week in England,” he joked. “We’re the biggest pain in each others’ backsides…it’s very competitive in England so you kind of get used to the feeling. You can never write these guys off.”
“Of course I’d have loved them all to drop a rail,” he grinned. “But look, it’s just what’s so special about our sport, that tense finish and no margin for error and I think that’s what got everyone so excited at home. I don’t think between us that we could have credited a better finale so it’s been a wonderful day for all of us.”
Ballaghmor Class, who has historically been known to knock a pole or two, had no plans of keeping in line with history, though and jumped a classical clear round to cement Oliver’s third victory here in as many years. They will end the weekend just barely off their dressage score on a 27.3.
It’s just another accolade to the growing list of accomplishments for the 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse by Courage II that has been in Oliver’s yard since he was just four years old. “Thomas” certainly set the bar high when he entered the then CCI4* ranks, winning Burghley in 2017 at his first attempt at the level. This weekend marks his sixth CCI5* and his sixth time finishing in the top five. To say he’s consistent would be a massive understatement, as it would be to say that Oliver loves the horse more than just about anything else in the world.
“Today he felt in incredible shape,” Oliver said. “I’ve never felt him as good and as careful.” This was the first time Ballaghmor Class has show jumped on footing at a five-star – his comfort in the footing may well have contributed to the freshness Oliver felt beneath him that left no doubt and all the rails in their cups.
It’s officially a three-peat #LRK3DE victory for Great Britain’s Oliver Townend.🥇Townend and Ballaghmor Class topped the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event after a flawless show jumping round that led them to finish on 27.3 penalties, which awarded them the win and put them in contention for the ROLEX Grand Slam of Eventing. 🥈Second place went to Tim Price (NZL) on 28.2, while🥉Jonelle Price closed out the top three with 30.7.Thank you to the USEF Network for the video coverage!
Posted by United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) on Sunday, April 25, 2021
“We’ve had him since he was four years old, so we know him very well,” he described. “He was very sharp all the way through and still can be. But that sharpness, when we’ve managed to bend it, is what makes him so special. He has got that extra gear in comparison to most horses so when you say ‘go’, he really can go. He used to go when he wanted to go – it was more his choice than yours. Now he’s very professional about what he does. He knows his job, he knows what day it is. It’s hard to put your finger on what makes him so special, but he definitely, definitely is.”
Two-thirds of the New Zealand contingent here, husband and wife duo of Tim and Jonelle Price, did all they could to put the pressure on and each delivered jump fault-free rounds. It would be Tim Price and the 15-year-old British Sport Horse gelding Xavier Faer (Catherston Liberator – Faerie Dazzler, by Catherston Dazzler), who was third here in 2019, steadily climbing from 11th after dressage into second overall on a score of 28.2. Xavier Faer is owned by Trisha Rickards (who is also his breeder), Nigella Hall and Tim Price.
After lowering three rails with Bango earlier on, Tim knew his work was cut out for him aboard the higher placed Xavier Faer. “I thought it was a very difficult show jumping course,” he said. “It had all sorts of elements. The time wasn’t just a gimme. You had to work for the clock. I thought there was an opportunity in there to jump a clear round. I thought it was going to be difficult to manage a clear round today. I didn’t manage on my first horse and he’s been double clear in his two five-stars. Managed to get it done with this guy. It’s not the same as being in the lead, so you can focus on your job see where that leaves you.”
Jonelle Price collected one second of time aboard the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse Grovine de Reve, finishing on the podium in third place on a final score of 30.7.
Grovine de Reve (Heremea de Reve – Erkina Jane, by Rimilis) had run around some big tracks including the 2018 World Equestrian Games with former rider Dan Jocelyn before coming to join Jonelle’s string in 2019. She said she spent some time installing the buttons she needed and adjusting to the new ride. Those efforts paid off in a big way today, and now she says he’s near the top of her string looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics. Grovine de Reve is owned by Therese Miller and Jonelle Price.
“I haven’t been given the ride on a lot of older more experienced horses,” she said. “He had jumped around the Worlds with Dan so it probably took a year to sort of change him a bit and adjust him to how I wanted to get him to go and my buttons. And the next year has been sort of fine tuning more and more and more. He’s not the most outward horse, we’ve sort of had to coax it out of him, but he’s got an immense amount of talent. He’s 75% Thoroughbred blood and he’s just given me more and more and I was really impressed with him.”
Boyd Martin lowered one rail aboard Christine Turner’s On Cue to finish in fourth position on a score of 31.8, making him the USEF National Champion here for the second consecutive running of the event. He’d love to have that rail back, but, as he jokingly put it “I think it’s great that America gives a prize to the highest placed American!”
On Cue (Cabri D’Elle – On High, by Primitive Rising) surprised many with her stellar performance this weekend – even Boyd would have given the top finish among his string to the most experienced horse of the three, Tsetserleg TSF. But after an untimely fall on cross country yesterday with Tsetserleg TSF, it was the 15-year-old Anglo-European mare’s time to shine.
"Obviously when you bring a horse to this level for this first time you don't know what to expect. She's unbelievable and exceeded all my expectations. She tried her absolute guts out and I'm just thrilled with her."At her CCI5* debut, On Cue helped Boyd Martin take home his second consecutive Land Rover #USAEventing CCI5* Eventing National Championship at #LRK3DE!(Thank you to the USEF Network for the video coverage throughtout the entire Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.)
Posted by United States Eventing Association, Inc. (USEA) on Sunday, April 25, 2021
Despite the rail, it was a heck of a debut for On Cue, who finishes her weekend on a score of 31.8 in fourth place.
“When you bring a horse to this level for the first time you don’t know what to expect,” Boyd said. “She exceeded my expectations. I really thought it would’ve been Tsetserleg that would have done better…she tried her absolute guts out and I’m just thrilled with her.”
Harry Meade capped off a successful weekend aboard the 12-year-old British Sport Horse Superstition, owned by Mandy Gray as well as Harry, rounding out the top five on a final score of 33.6 with one rail down. It was a comeback weekend for Harry, who completes his first CCI5* since finishing sixth at Burghley in 2018. Dealt a massive head injury to recover from in 2020, this weekend certainly has been a special one for Harry as well as for Superstition, who clinches his very first CCI5* completion.
Australia’s Kevin McNab also enjoyed a successful weekend in Kentucky, finishing sixth with Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam (Quidam – Nairoby, by Amethist), who climbed from 21st after dressage to finish sixth overall on a score of 34.6.
Jonelle Price and the speedy and very experienced Classic Moet (Classic – Gamston Bubbles, by Bohemond) finished seventh on their dressage score of 35.2. “Molly” is 18 this year, and Jonelle says with the uncertainty of the British five-stars, she wanted to make the trek with the 2018 Badminton winner. Molly fans fear not, though, you may not have seen the last of the superstar mare – Jonelle thinks she may have one more five-star in her, so we may potentially see her out at Burghley later this fall (or hey, Jonelle, there’s a little event happening in Maryland this fall too you know…).
U.S. riders fill out the rest of the top 10, with Phillip Dutton jumping one of the fault-free round today with The Z Partnership’s Z to climb into eighth position on a final score of 35.2. Phillip was thrilled with Z’s efforts today, taking time to thank his team for all their hard work after he came out of the ring. This is another horse that has begun to show increased consistency as he’s matured – no doubt he’ll still be on the Tokyo selectors’ radar after this weekend.
It was a fairytale of a weekend for Tamie Smith and the Ahearn family and Eric Markell’s Mai Baum, who capped things off with a double clear jumping round to finish ninth overall on a score of 38.8. It’s been a long, long road with the 15-year-old German Sport Horse by Loredano. I’ll let Tamie speak for herself here – grab a tissue:
Liz Halliday-Sharp didn’t have the ending she wanted with Ocala Horse Properties’ Deniro Z. The pair lowered two rails and picked up two seconds of time to drop into 10th place on a score of 39.0. It’s the 13-year-old KWPN gelding’s best finishing score at the CCI5* level, and Liz commented yesterday after her cross country that he’d finished strong and had given her a positive feeling about his progression. The career is, with any luck, still young for this pair and they’ve certainly got much to be proud of nonetheless this weekend.
The name of the game certainly was climbing the ranks this weekend, and all riders in the final press conference were quick to reiterate the importance of having a true, gritty event horse who could finish the job in all three phases to emerge successful at the end of the weekend.
Indeed, looking at the dressage rankings, the eventual top 10 this year contained six combinations who were placed 11th or worse after dressage. When the dust settled, aside from the leader all other places shuffled once again and left us with a different top 10 than what we had last night.
Looking to how the course rode today, we saw a total of 16 clear jumping rounds (37.2%), 12 pairs had one rail down (27.9%), nine had two rails (20.9%), three had three down (7%) and three had four or more down (7%). A total of nine pairs had rounds that were clear inside the time.
With so many incredible storylines this week I’m bound to miss a good few of them, but I leave you today with my favorite pair, Ema Klugman and Bendigo, who capped off their weekend by winning the Highest Placed Youngest Rider for the competition. They end their weekend in 33rd place, and while Ema is kicking herself for a hairy moment in the triple and a second rail down, it’s a weekend she won’t soon be forgetting. Take a listen:
And finally, Buck Davidson took a moment to reflect on the weekend – one where he finished Katherine O’Brien’s Carlevo in the top 20 and piloted Kat Cuca’s Jak My Style to his first five-star completion – and the sudden loss of his longtime friend and partner, Ballynoe Castle RM. “Reggie” was a special one who gave us many, many happy Kentucky memories, so it felt fitting to reflect on the experiences Buck had with him:
It’s hard to believe that the Kentucky Three-Day event has already come and gone. After the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, life as we know it changed in more ways than we can name. The weekend was, above all, permeated with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude to be here, gratitude for the thousands of donations that allowed the event to run after initially canceling, gratitude that the sun finally peeked its head out just in time for the CCI5* conclusion today, gratitude that all horses and riders were back in the barn safe and sound last night. It’s easy to think “oh, it’s just a silly horse show,” for some – but it’s more than that for us. I know not everyone had the weekend they wanted – there were points left on the table, decisions that you’re kicking yourself for now – but I hope we’re all leaving the Horse Park tonight with a fresh sense of awe, appreciation and thankfulness. I certainly know I am.
Thank you so much for taking the time to follow along with us this weekend. Until next year (hopefully)! Go eventing.