British rider Oliver Townend has scored his third consecutive win in the 5* Kentucky Three-Day-Event, jumping a clear round on Ballaghmor Class on Sunday to take the title.
It is Townend’s sixth career five-star win, and the second at that level for Ballaghmor Class (Courage II x Kilderry Place), a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding.
New Zealand power couple Tim and Jonelle Price placed second and third, respectively. They were also the only individuals in the competition to finish on their dressage scores with two out of five horses entered between them.
Boyd Martin (USA) was sitting second after cross-country with On Cue and needed a clear round to hold his placing. A rail at the first element of a double combination off a tight turn dashed his hopes of putting the pressure on Townend for the win. But his fourth place finish on a final score of 31.8 won him the Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Championship for the second time in a row, after taking it out in 2019 with Tsetserleg TSF.
The scores were incredibly close before show jumping, with the top eight all within a rail of the lead. Townend’s day had an unhappy start, when eighth-placed Cooley Master Class was spun from the final horse inspection. By the time Townend entered the Rolex Arena for his show jumping round aboard Ballaghmor Class, he was faced with needing a fault-free round to win. A successful effort and finishing score of 27.3 earned Townend a $US50,000 payday and one-year lease on a 2021 Land Rover Discovery.
“I had a plan and just went in and did it,” Townend said. “He was jumping exceptionally which makes my job very, very easy. My biggest concern is, 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 very 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 the position to clear the fences.”
Typically, the Rolex Arena is packed with fans on the final day of competition. Spectators were absent this year, but Townend felt there was still an atmosphere to contend with.
“The stadium itself is the most special stadium in the world for eventing. When you go in that stadium, whether it’s full to the brim or it’s completely empty, for me there is still a very strong aura because this place is so special to us,” Townend said.
“Going down that chute when there are thousands of people watching or no-one watching, when the pressure is on it will feel very much like the place we want to be. 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.”
Tim Price and Xavier Faer had moved up from equal 11 after dressage to finish second on 28.2 with no jumping or time penalties to add.
“I thought it was a very difficult show jumping course. It had all sorts of elements. The time wasn’t just a gimme. You had to work for the clock,” Tim said. “I thought there was an opportunity in there to jump a clear round, but I thought it was going to be difficult to manage today. I didn’t manage it on [Bango] … I managed to get it done with [Xavier Faer]. It’s not the same as being in the lead, so you can focus on your job and see where that leaves you.”
There was a bit of rattling of the rails during Tim and Xavier Faer’s final round, but everything stayed in place. “He tried hard in his own special way,” Tim said. “I had to ride from the seat of my pants a little bit and throw away the plan here and there, but that is the Hugo that we know and love.”
He was a horse who is predictable with his unpredictability, according to his rider. Tim was grateful for all the effort that had gone in by so many to get everyone to Kentucky. “It was a good shot in the arm for the Kiwi contingent ahead of a great year. I am really pleased with how it has all come off.”
Jonelle Price had three horses in the competition and finished with two in the top ten. She placed third on 30.7 with Grovine de Reve, adding just 0.4 time penalties in show jumping. She and her longtime partner Classic Moet finished on their dressage score of 35.2 for seventh place. Jonelle was pleased with her team. “When I had two down on the first mare (Grappa Nera) who had warmed up so beautifully I was starting to think ‘oh dear’, but actually they were all in great form. I couldn’t be more pleased with Grovine de Reve and Classic Moet with their two clear rounds.”
She’s had Grovine de Reve for two years, with the horse previously being with fellow Kiwi eventer Dan Jocelyn.
“I haven’t been given the ride on a lot of older, more experienced horses,” Jonelle said. “It took me a year to change him a little bit and adjust him to the way I wanted him to go. That was the first year really. The next year has been fine-tuning him more and more. He’s got a lot in there. He’s not the most outward horse — we’ve had to coax it out of him — but he’s got an immense amount of talent. While he’s not the fanciest, he’s a real jumper and is giving me more and more as time goes on. I was really impressed with him this week.”
The track had been a challenge. “It was a tough track – certainly the toughest I have seen at a 5* for a long time. It was big, wide and had had a few sort of unusual distances and lines, so it really did take some jumping,” she said,
To have two horses come out and jump as well as they did was an “absolute highlight” for the two-time Olympian.
“It is just so fantastic to be back at a big one – 5* is what we do this for, so it was a really good day to be back at this level and at a competition of this calibre. Kentucky put on a fantastic competition and it was a classy field. It is exciting for us personally but really exciting for Team New Zealand and hopefully it will give us some momentum heading towards the Olympic Games.”
It was the five-star debut for Boyd Martin’s 15-year-old mare On Cue, and he was thrilled with her performance. “When you bring a horse to this level for the first time you don’t know quite what to expect,” Martin said. “She gave everything she had this weekend and exceeded my expectations. I thought it would be my other horse Tsetserleg that would have done better, but she really stepped up and tried her absolute guts out. I would have loved to jump clear today but having one pole down with this company here is still respectable.”
Martin also commented on the absence of spectators: “When I first came to Kentucky in 2006, I couldn’t believe the crowds. You’re galloping around the cross-country and there are seas of people cheering. As you get more experience you learn to focus in, but I would say this weekend I was just as nervous and terrified and there was just as much pressure. Being at the Horse Park here and the big jumps and stadium, I don’t think it was any easier not having people watching.”
Another Kiwi eventer had a win over the weekend, with Jesse Campbell’s groom Hannah McLean winning the award for best turned-out horse in the 5*. In the showjumping, Campbell and Diachello were all clear but added 0.8 time faults to their score for their 39.5 penalty point finish in 11th place. The combination was also clear in their cross-country yesterday, adding only time there as well.
“I am just so proud of my horse,” Campbell said. “It was a huge ask to bring him here and he has absolutely delivered in spades. He is just such an exciting horse for the future. I have produced him slowly but I think now is his moment to shine and I can’t wait for what the future holds for him. He is such a lovely horse.”
Alyssa Phillips and Oskar take out CCI4*-S
The last time Alyssa Phillips won at the Kentucky Horse Park, she won the 2011 FEI North American Junior/Young Rider Championship at age 14. That was one year before her dad passed away. On Sunday, Phillips won at Kentucky again, this time taking home the Lexington CCI4*-S title riding her and Julie Phillips’ Holsteiner gelding Oskar.
“My dad was definitely here in the stadium today, just like he was in 2011,” Phillips said.
Phillips and Oskar were tied for 15th after dressage on a score of 32.3. They added 5.6 time penalties but no jumping penalties on a testing cross-country track on Saturday.
Their cross-country performance put them second going into the final phase on a score of 37.9. They produced one of only five fault-free show jumping rounds to put the pressure on the leader, who ultimately pulled a rail, giving Phillips her first four-star win.
Tamie Smith and Ruth Bley’s EnVogue were leading the way after the first two phases, but an unlucky rail plus 1.2 time penalties saw them finish second on 40.2.
Liz Halliday-Sharp took out third place on Cooley Moonshine, with 42.5 penalties.