Townend Cruises Around Maryland’s CCI5* Cross Country

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent maintain their lead after the CCI5* cross-country course at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill.

Great Britain’s Oliver Townend said he’s thought Cooley Rosalent was a superstar since the day he first saw her at age 4. She proved him right as she cruised around Maryland’s CCI5* cross-country course to maintain their lead at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill presented by Brown Advisory on Saturday.

“From literally arriving at the warm-up to setting out of the box, I just thought ‘God, you’re just something special,’” Townend said. “She was very keen but in a beautiful way, ears pricked and enthusiastic and basically, she’s had a whale of a time out here. I couldn’t be happier with her. She’s fulfilled our dreams that she’s the next, hopefully, big thing for five-star horses.”

Maryland's CCI5* Cross-Country
Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cooley Rosalent maintained their lead around Maryland’s CCI5* cross country. © Amy K. Dragoo

Townend and Rosie received no jumping penalties and incurred 6 time penalties around Ian Stark’s course. They head into stadium jumping with a score of 29.1. Five-time Olympian William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Grafennacht also jumped clean with 5.2 time faults, finishing the day with an overall score of 31.3. Five-star rookie Mia Farley (USA) and Phelps were the only pair at the CCI5* to jump double-clean for an overall score of 32.9.

How the Course Rode

The CCI5* cross country started with 25 horses. Jennie Brannigan withdrew Twighlightslastgleam before cross-country began. Only Farley and Phelps finished the course in the time allowed of 11 minutes, 10 seconds. Additionally, 11 jumped clean cross country but had time faults. Five riders were eliminated and four riders retired on course.

The course consisted of 28 numbered obstacles with 45 jumping efforts and included 12 combinations.

Course designer Ian Stark was happy with the results. “I kind of hoped that some would go all the direct routes, and some did,” he said. “But I gave them lots of alternatives. And they could change their minds in the middle of combinations. Everything was used. They even came up with ideas that I hadn’t even thought about. It’s great.”

As far as only one horse going in the time allowed, Stark said he was “delighted. I got so much abuse for two years for screwing up the time. I thought they just rode well and fast and good ground. And the fact that it was the one Thoroughbred that did the time leaves me enormously [happy]. And there were people close, but they didn’t quite make it. It worked out well.”

Riders thought that the course was harder than last year’s. “I know that Ian has tweaked his course and he’s tweaked it into a true five star and probably one of the toughest five stars in the world right now as of today,” Townend said. “I think that’s what the sport needs.”

Townend and Cooley Rosalent

Townend, the World No. 1 eventer, said that going around the course, his thoughts were focused on the jumps and trying to give the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare “as nice a trip as possible … . She’s hopefully going to be a very long-term partner for me in my career. We know how good she is, so it was about giving her the best experience possible.”

He said his manager drummed it into him to sit very still up the hills toward the back half of the course to try to save the mare’s energy. “With the difficult corners and the water, where she might be a bit green, she needs that bit of energy, so as soon as I got over the water, I was like, ‘OK, now we can go.’ But in all honesty, I’ve spent most of the, most of the round sort of saying, ‘Whoa, just wait, just wait.’ Hopefully I won’t be kicking myself, because she definitely could have gone a lot quicker, but I’m happy with the ride and the round that she’s had, and hopefully it’s a massive building block for the future.”

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht

Fox-Pitt said he was optimistic after the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare nicknamed “Lillie” gave him a great ride at the Badminton Horse Trials last spring. “She’s always been a very cool horse, even from a 5 year old. She doesn’t really deviate anywhere. She’s nice and easy to ride.”

Maryland's CCI5* Cross Country
William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Grafennacht are in second place after Maryland’s CCI5* cross country. © Amy K. Dragoo

The pair were held on course following Fence 15 while Arielle Aharoni’s horse Dutch Times was taken off course in an ambulance as a precaution and transported back to the stables.

Fox-Pitt said in hindsight being held helped the mare. During the time, she was washed off and given water. “You think you’d like to stay in that rhythm and keep going. And I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. When I get up to the corners in the water, she might be fresher than I’d anticipated.’ So I rather thought that I could ride her a little bit quieter. But she held very relaxed. … I’ve got to say, that played to my advantage for sure, because she doesn’t look like she’s done all of them.”

Farley and Phelps

Farley said she’s been anxious leading up to her first five-star with Phelps, a 10-year-old Thoroughbred. “Leading up to this week, I’ve been definitely a little bit mentally unstable,” she said laughing.

As she went around cross country, she said there were a lot of surprises and many of the fences didn’t ride as she’d planned. “I really wanted to have everything set and planned. [Eventer Lauren Nicholson’s] like, ‘You know what’s funny is that it’s probably not going go to plan.’ But I was like, ‘No! It’s got to go to plan!” And it didn’t. But that’s why it was scrappy and we got it done. I have an unbelievable horse that just does anything I ask him.”

When the course wasn’t going to her original plan, Farley said she made sure to keep her arms moving. “I didn’t want to lock up in the air because then he throws his head up. So when it did get scrappy, maybe not to plan, I just kept going forward,” she said. “I knew if he saw the jump, I knew he was going to jump it.

Maryland's CCI5* Cross Country
Mia Farley (USA) and the Thoroughbred Phelps were the only pair to ride a double-clean round in Maryland’s CCI5* cross country to put them in third place going into Sunday’s stadium jumping. © Amy K. Dragoo

“What I learned about Phelps today is that he’s a true fighter,” she continued. “Like, when I wasn’t fully there for him, he was like, ‘It’s OK, I got you.’ And it was a wonderful feeling for him to kind of step in and take over the reins in a way.”

David O’Connor on Phelps

Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor has owned Phelps since he was 3 and said Farley, now 23, has ridden him since she was 17.  She has done all the work on him, he said. “We never really thought he would … Day by day, never really thought he was ever going to do this,” O’Connor said. “He has a wonderful personality, and he just tries his heart out. And [Mia] gives all of our horses such a good ride. … She’s got a soft way of going, but she’s also got such a good eye, such a good sense of balance off of it. All the horses love jumping for her. We’re real proud of her, that’s for sure.”

Final Thoughts on the Course

Both Fox-Pitt and Townend said that Stark’s course required riders to think and adapt as they rode depending on their horses and the course.

“You couldn’t just walk the course and say, ‘I’m gonna do that, that and that.’ You had to actually see ‘Where am I? Am I straight?’ So there was a good few options for deciding at the spur of the moment,” Fox-Pitt said. “And I think that’s a great part of cross country we’ve really got to keep in our sport. I think the sport is getting more and more clinical. And I think we want to keep that little bit of adjustment.”

Fox-Pitt gave the water jump at Fences 21ABC and 22ABC as an example. He said that the line walked in two-and-a half strides, so riders had to adapt on course and decide “Am I going straight? Am I adding? Am I circling left?”

Townend agreed, citing Fences 14AB, two square oxers, to Fence 15, a corner. Ricers could have ridden it in five strides to four strides or four strides to three strides. “It really makes you think, and my plan going out today after I’d seen it was, ‘OK, I’ll come quiet to the first and close to the first, and do five and four, because she’s young and I want to give her time.

“She jumps the first massive, and five was never going to happen, so we ended up on four and four,” he continued. “It’s just getting those details of getting riders reacting as quickly as that and thinking on your feet. …  That’s what good cross-country riders should do.”

Complete Results

Click here for complete cross-country results.

The competition continues on the final day Sunday. The CCI5* stadium jumping begins at 2 p.m. EST. To read about the first day of dressage, click here. Read about the First Horse Inspection here.

Thanks to ADM Animal Nutrition for our coverage of the 2023 Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, including rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more!⁣

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