Oliver Townend hopes new ride can complete Rolex Grand Slam

  • Oliver Townend is pinning his hopes of completing the Rolex Grand Slam on a new ride, Ashdale Cruise Master (pictured).

    The lucrative Rolex Grand Slam is a $350,000 (£233,571) bonus to any event rider who can win the world’s three biggest four-stars — Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky — consecutively.

    Oliver won Badminton last year on Flint Curtis and Burghley on Carousel Quest, so if he can win the American four-star at Kentucky (22-25 April) this time he will scoop the prize.

    Today Oliver confirmed that he plans to ride Ashdale Cruise Master at Kentucky, as well as possibly ODT Master Rose.

    Ashdale Cruise Master completed Burghley last year with Emily Gilruth, and over the winter the owners Henry and Edna Harding moved him to Oliver’s Shropshire yard.

    “He’s a very classy horse, with lots and lots of scope,” said Oliver. “My biggest problem is it’s a race against time on the dressage front, but he’s definitely one of the best horses I’ve ridden.”

    Oliver will have his first British Eventing run with the 11-year-old Cruising gelding in the advanced intermediate at Poplar Park this Sunday.

    Rolex Grand Slam pressure

    Only one rider has won the Rolex Grand Slam, Pippa Funnell, who scooped the prize, then $250,000 (£166,843), after victories at the events with Supreme Rock and Primmore’s Pride in 2003 (the three events have to be won consecutively, but any order and any number of horses is permitted).

    Australian Andrew Hoy put himself in line for the prize when he won Kentucky and Badminton in 2006, but he couldn’t quite complete the trio at Burghley, finishing second.

    Both Pippa and Andrew felt the pressure leading up to the final event, but Oliver is confident he can cope.

    “All I’m worried about is riding well and getting the best out of my horses,” he said. “I’ve never been flapped by media attention before, and I know there’s going to be more attention, but at the same time, it’s simply another big event I want to win.

    “It might seem risky to only take one horse to Kentucky, but the last two four-stars I won I only had one ride and it seemed to work getting my head down and focusing on one horse. It’s a long week for me, but I can get some sleep and concentrate on getting the job done.”

    Other plans

    Oliver might take ODT Master Rose, a 10-year-old he has produced since he was six, to Kentucky, but he and Golden Hue are both entered for Badminton.

    Oliver was vague about plans for both his “grey boys” — Flint Curtis and Carousel Quest. Both are now older horses (14 and 15) and neither would be suited to making the long journey to Kentucky, and he said that Carousel Quest will be aimed at Burghley again.

    “He suits Burghley, so why not save him for that?” he reasoned. “He seems to blossom at Burghley every time [he was fourth there with Cressida Clague Reading in 2006, as well as winning last year].”

    Oliver confirmed that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Kentucky in the autumn is a priority for him: “I want to improve on my result for the team, and the worlds are as big a competition as anything in my mind. I want to go there and win that.”

    Oliver hinted that at this stage Ashdale Cruise Master would be his first choice for WEG, but he hasn’t ruled out other horses.

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