Oliver Townend successfully defended his title in the Dodson & Horrell Novice Championship at Gatcombe’s Festival of British Eventing, presented by BETA, with an impressively assured performance on Andrew Cawthray’s Brucester Rooster, a horse that only started eventing this year.

“I thought he could win here because he is a horse that seems to love all three phases,” said Oliver, for whom it was a third British Novice title, following last year on Jeepers Creepers and 2005 on Best of Spirits.

Ruth Edge, leader after the first two phases, left the way clear for Oliver when she suffered a surprise fall from Bojack JX at the very last fence.

The runner-up Andrew Nicholson’s mount, Omeya, is also a first-season eventer, the exciting 10-year-old mare having been a show jumper in Spain.

“I’ve been trying to buy her for two years,” explained Andrew. “She’s looks classy and is beautiful to sit on.”

Alex Hua Tian, competing for the first time over Gatcombe’ exacting undulations, was third on Furst Love, another fast-progressing horse. He was bred to do dressage, but has gone from pre-novice to advanced in one season.

“Riding here was a real thrill,” said Alex. “You’ve got to go really fast — it’s not a cross-country course where you can be anything else but competitive.”

Andrew Nicholson’s profitable day included victory in both advanced classes on Quimbo and Calico Joe. He is also lying second in the British Open on Avebury, following what he described as the grey gelding’s best ever test, and fifth on Nereo.

Mary King, a record five-time winner of the title, leads the field Imperial Cavalier, her ride at the forthcoming European Championships. Her team mate Nicola Wilson heads the British Intermediate Championship field on Aristotle.