Great Britain’s Oliver Townend said it’s hard to know what makes Ballaghmor Class so special, but whatever it was came out in force this weekend, culminating in a clear show-jumping round today that clinched the win in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Mars CCI5*-L.
“Today he felt in incredible shape. I’ve never felt him as good. I’ve never felt him as careful,” said Townend of the 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. “He’s just got an extreme amount of power, an extreme amount of talent, and now he’s very, very professional about what he does. He knows his job.”
Townend has now won the event three years in a row—the first two in 2018 and 2019. The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Townend had won the previous two years with Cooley Master Class, who yesterday had finished cross-country in eighth place but was not accepted during the Second Horse Inspection this morning. Townend said the horse has suffered a cut during cross-country and did not present well but was sound and in “excellent shape.”
Going into the Rolex Stadium this afternoon, Townend and Ballaghmor Class could not afford to have even one rail down because New Zealand’s Tim Price had gone clean with 15-year-old Xavier Faer. In the end, Townend ended with a score of 27.3 to Price’s 28.2.
Townend said that a concern in the show-jumping phase with “Thomas” is that he jumps so big that it’s easy to have time penalties. “My biggest thing was have a good, strong pace, don’t get caught on time and just try to get him in a position to clear the fences,” he said. “But today he was jumping exceptional, so it felt like whatever I did, he wasn’t going to have a fence down.”
Townend has had Thomas since he was 4 years old and said the horse has an extra gear in comparison to most horses, “so when you say go, he can really go. He used to go when you didn’t want him to go, like it was more his choice than yours.”
Price and Xavier Faer were the only pair to finish the event on their dressage score, which moved them up a spot from third to second place. Of Steve Stephens show-jumping course, Price said, “I thought it was a very difficult show-jumping course. It had all sorts of elements. It was technical in size.”
Price’s wife, Jonelle Price, moved from sixth to third place with Grovine De Reve, a 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. “While he’s not the fanciest, he’s a real jumper and he’s just giving me more and more as time goes on. I was really impressed by him this week,” she said.
Price has been riding Grovine De Reve for about two years. “It took me probably about a year to sort of change him a little bit and adjust to the way that I wanted him to go and to my buttons and things. … And the next year has been fine-tuning him more and more and more. He’s got a lot in there. He’s not sort of an outward horse. We’ve sort of had to coax it out of him a little bit. He’s got an immense amount of talent.”
Boyd Martin and On Cue, who went into the show jumping in second place, dropped a rail to finish in fourth. They were the highest-placing U.S. pair, which earned them the Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L National Championship. "I’m absolutely thrilled with On Cue,” he said “Obviously when you bring a horse to this level for the first time, you’re don’t know quite what to expect. She’s unbelievable, though. She absolutely gave everything she had this weekend and it’s exceeded my expectations.”
Though there were no spectators in the arena, the riders thought the event was special. “I still felt there was an atmosphere in terms of the stadium itself,” Townend said. “It’s the most special stadium in the world for eventing. When you go in that stadium, whether it’s full to the brim or sometimes you’ve been in there before the event started and it’s completely empty, for me there’s still a very strong aura because this place is so special to us.”
CCI4*: Alyssa Phillips and Oskar Jump Clear for the Win
The last time Alyssa Phillips was at the Kentucky Horse Park, she won the team and individual gold medals at the 2011 North American Junior Young Rider Championships. “It was the year before my dad passed away, so he was definitely here in the stadium today, just like he was in 2011,” said Phillips. “So that was pretty special.”
Phillips was in the Rolex Stadium today on her way to winning the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event Lexington 4*-S—her first four-star win. She rode a clear round in the show-jumping phase with her 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding Oskar in the final day of competition. The pair finished with a score of 37.9.
“I’m dreaming. I should probably pinch myself and wake up from it. It’s pretty unreal,” Phillips said. “I’m over the moon.
Phillips and Oskar went into the arena just behind the frontrunners from dressage and cross country, Tamie Smith and the 16-year-old mare EnVogue. But the pair had a rail at the first fence of the triple combination, fence 9ABC, and had to settle for second with a score of 40.2. “[EnVogue] jumped really amazing and had a great round,” Smith said. “I barely ticked it behind. It’s just part of the sport. I was proud of how well she jumped. It’s the best she’s jumped in that kind of atmosphere."
After Smith’s round, she went over to congratulate Phillips. “I always think that I’m competing against myself, and I don’t ever wish anything bad on my fellow competitors,” Smith said. “[Phillips] deserved to win. She jumped a beautiful, clear round and I had one down and that’s the way it goes.”
Phillips said that Oskar is “pretty much like a dog. He’s super-chill laid back. He’s just a little love bug. … Just looking at him in the barn and how he walks, you wouldn’t think that he would be winning a four-star because he’s really chill. But it’s also because he knows that when he’s at a big competition, then he really brightens up and he likes to show off.”
The pair did just that during yesterday’s cross-country course in the pouring rain. Phillips said that after watching the livestream of earlier riders on course, she became a bit nervous because nothing was riding as planned. But her trainer, five-star rider Jennie Brannigan told her that she knew her horse and her plan and to just be aggressive. “I wasn’t looking at my watch,” Phillips said. “I honestly never heard it beep once because I was just focused on getting to the next jump and seeing a good distance because the rain was all in my eyes. But he jumped fantastic. He’s not the quickest horse in field, but he doesn’t require much set up—he’s quick in that sense.”
Phillips and Oskar and Smith and EnVogue will next compete in the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event CCI4*-L, May 5-9.
A Tight-Knit Eventing Community
During a press conference, the president of Equestrian Events Incorporated Mike Cooper recounted how the event almost didn’t happen. The event was almost cancelled for a second year in a row because spectators were not going to be allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.“Thanks to a lot of folks, a lot of equestrian folks … we were able to raise enough money to put this event on," Cooper said. "We had, I believe, 1,200 people who donated anywhere from—the smallest amount was $20.”
Jim Wolf, who works with Kentucky sponsors Land Rover, Mars and Rolex, agreed, saying it was a group effort to hold the event. “Our community really got behind the event, and I think that’s a really interesting thing about eventing. We are really a tight-knit community. … In eventing, we’re a family and we help each other.”
For complete coverage of the 2021 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, click here.