A big gamble paid off for Oliver Townend of Great Britain as he won the 4 star Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this afternoon and collected a $130,000 prize, but there may be a bigger payday to come.
The victory means Oliver is two-thirds of the way to achieving the $350,000 Rolex Grand Slam, awarded to the rider who consecutively wins in any order Kentucky and the Land Rover Burghley and Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse trials in England. To start his run, Oliver took Burghley last September, when the show jumping course was set by Richard Jeffery, who also did the honors today at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Only two riders, Pippa Funnell of Great Britain and Germany’s Michael Jung, have taken the Grand Slam in the past. With his trip to Kentucky, Oliver set his sights on being the third.
Sure, the Grand Slam is always a longshot, but the lesson here is, don’t bet against Oliver. He’s a very impressive rider who won both Badminton and Burghley in 2009, before a drought of 4-star victories.
Asked if he really believed before he came that he could win at Kentucky, he said, “I thought it was possible, otherwise I wouldn’t have talked my owners into spending the fortune that it cost to get here. I had two good horses but a lot needed to go right, especially with them being first-timers (at) 4-stars.
He also needed a lot to go wrong for the riders who were in front of him in the standings before show jumping. And it did.
While Oliver moved up from fifth after dressage on Cooley Master Class to third following cross-country and produced a clean show jumping round before a crowd of 21,260 this afternoon to finish on his dressage score of 28.7 penalties, his rivals were going in the other direction.
Michael Jung, the leader after cross-country who was hoping to win his fourth straight Kentucky crown with fischerRocana FST, had a bad start to his day. His mare was held in the final horse inspection, and there were some tense moments before she was accepted after being re-presented.
Amazingly, the same thing happened to Australia’s Chris Burton, second with 27.9 penalties on Nobilis 18 after cross-country. His horse was held and accepted on re-presentation, but that can’t be a confidence-building situation.
Diarmuid Byrne of Equiratings, which uses statistics to make predictions, noted that while Master Class had never handled a 4-star show jumping track, he had only one knockdown in his last 11 rounds. He expected the horse to move up in the standings, while warning that fischerRocana’s Achilles heel is show jumping, and pointing out Nobilis had four rails down when he won Burghley two years ago.
The scenario that Diarmuid sketched played out exactly. Chris had two rails, moving him down to seventh and Oliver up to second. Then it was all up to Michael, who faltered at the fifth fence, the triple bar. He blamed himself for asking his mare to jump from too far away, and the resulting rail down put him second. Michael was a good sport though; he was hurting inside, but still smiled bravely and waved to the crowd as he left the arena.
Oliver was emotional about his victory.
“I’ve had a rough couple of years one way and another and it’s a hard grind at home, but this is an absolute long-term dream of mine,” he said. “I just want to thank every single person here for sharing that dream day with me.”
Although it has been 10 years since an American won at Kentucky, Marilyn Little came close, taking the Land Rover/U.S. Equestrian Federation CCI 4-star national eventing championship as the best finisher from the U.S. with her third-place ribbon on RF Scandalous.
She had a real up-and-down time at the Horse Park. Marilyn started out by deposing Michael from the top of the dressage standings, then added 8 time penalties to her score on cross-country, dropping her to fifth with a score of 32.8.
Worse yet, social media was abuzz because blood had been spotted in her horse’s mouth, a scenario that has happened with her mare several times previously.
“She had a cut on the outside bottom right corner of her outside bottom lip,” said Marilyn, noting her groom noticed the blood. Marilyn called for U.S. chef d’equipe Erik Duvander and got veterinarians to take a look.
“I didn’t want to go out on course unless everyone was very sure she was 100 percent okay,” said Marilyn. They cleared her to run, and she left the start box feeling everything had been handled properly. She said the mare stumbled after the third fence and may have hit it again to start the blood flowing again. Hence the social media pictures.
The cut originally appeared to come from the mare’s top teeth as she bit her own lip, leaving a horizontal line.
Why did it happen? “She’s a drama queen,” said Marilyn.
As far as the time faults went, she said, “I didn’t want to push her. I just rode her exactly as I felt I should and she finished a better horse than when she went out.”
As for the social media comments, she said, “I am under a microscope right now. All I can say is I care about my horses very much and try to do the right thing for them. We cannot always control the luck of things.”
But Marilyn, who started out as a show jumper and still competes in the discipline, was back in form today to produce a clear round in the final phase and move up to the podium.
More from Land Rover Kentucky:
- Asked how he will prepare for Badminton (which starts Thursday) when he gets home on Tuesday, Oliver answered, “Wash some clothes, have a bit of a sleep and go down south.” The horses are being galloped by his staff at home on Monday and he plans to sit on them Tuesday.
- Master Class is by Ramiro B, a stallion in which Oliver has an interest. So the victory “is good for the breeding side of things,” as Oliver pointed out. Ramiro also is the sire of Cooley SRS, who Oliver will be riding at Badminton along with his Burghley winner, Ballaghmor Class.
- Oliver also competed on MHS King Joules, who had a rail down but produced a round that promises big things for the future as he finished seventh.
For the complete list of results, visit this link.