‘We’ve always thought she was exceptional’: Oliver Townend and dazzling grey score Blenheim young horse CCI4*-S victory

  • A fortnight after his Burghley win with the great Ballaghmor Class Oliver Townend, showed that he has another rising star grey among his string by taking victory in the young horse CCI4*-S at Blenheim Horse Trials with the stunning mare Cooley Rosalent.

    The pair headed into Sunday’s cross-country with a one-second advantage over Piggy March and Brookfield Future News. They would be the only two combinations of the day to make the tight cross-country time, turning those provisional places into their final standings.

    This eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S has a history of serving as a stepping stone to five-star greatness. Analytics firm EquiRatings has counted 23 graduates who have gone on to win a five-star, including five former winners of this young horse championship.

    Paul Ridgeon’s grey looked full of confidence as she devoured David Evans’s short-format cross-country course, ears pinned ahead, crossing the finish line smack on the optimum time of six minutes 54 seconds to win on her dressage score of 24.7.

    “She’s incredible,” said Oliver, who has had the mare since she was four years old. “We’ve always thought she was exceptional.

    “Well done to Richard and Georgina Sheane at Cooley Farm, they found another one for us. She’s been special since word go. I’ve been lucky enough to produce her, but in all honesty, most people could have produced her, because she’s very straightforward, exceptionally talented and finds everything very easy.

    “She wants to do it more than probably more than I do sometimes. She’s very keen and enthusiastic. She had her ears pricked all the way round the cross-country.”

    The nine-year-old mare, by Valent, is out of thoroughbred mare Bellaney Jewell and is a full sibling to Irish rider Clare Abbott’s 2021 eventing Europeans ride Jewelent. Both were bred by the Rosbothams in Ireland.

    Oliver and Cooley Rosalent arrived at Blenheim with an exceptional record, having finished in the top seven in 12 of their 15 international starts. This includes two wins and taking silver at the six-year-old world championship in Le Lion in 2020.

    She stepped up to five-star at Luhmühlen in June and Oliver explained that her trip to Germany was always part of a wider plan with her development in mind.

    “We wanted to know how she coped with it, and what we needed to do from a management point of view and educational point of view for the future,” said Oliver.

    “She wasn’t going to Luhmühlen to win. She was going to see people and umbrellas and arenas. That mileage has been absolutely second to none. Then when you come to a place like Blenheim… she felt like an experienced horse going around there.”

    He added that Cooley Rosalent found the cross-country course “as always, very comfortable” and was also thrilled with the performances of his other two CCI4*-S rides, En Taro Des Vernier and Caunton First Class.

    “For an eight- and nine-year-old class, the course in general was extremely tough, which I think it should be. It’s our eight- and nine-year old-championship.

    “It was a fair course. But at the same time, you definitely don’t want to be coming here on anything that’s even half green, because even for the ones that have enough mileage, it’s definitely a big step up.”

    Blenheim Horse Trials: ‘It’s what we do this for’

    Piggy and the eight-year-old Brookfield Future News were drawn early, making light work of the course to finish five seconds inside the optimum time. It would prove to be an almost mirror image of how the CCI4*-L cross-country played out, with an early pair cruising round inside the time, only to be followed by several eventful hours. Anyone lulled into a false sense that this would be a straightforward day of cross-country was mistaken.

    The dressage scores were so tightly bunched that any cross-country time-penalties were hugely influential.

    The layout of the course meant that the first water complex came up much earlier in this track than in yesterday’s long-format, with the brush box to shoulder brush causing a sizeable share of problems. The young horses took a different route through the second water – a dew pond at the top of the hill that was introduced last year – with plenty of green moments from these eight- and nine-year-old horses. In total, 10 combinations had problems at the first water, and 18 at the second.

    Brookfield Future News, who is owned by Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry, showed maturity beyond his years to give Piggy a round to remember.

    “He was bloody brilliant,” said Piggy. “I’m so excited because he was everything that I thought he was, from the age of six. He’s a bigger blood horse – he’s not always been the fanciest. But I’ve always believed and he’s one of my favourites.

    “I’ve said all along to people, ‘you have no idea what this has underneath the bonnet’. He was amazing at Le Lion last year and I know he’s a five-star horse.

    “The owners have just been brilliant. I said, ‘I don’t want to run him for the sake of it. Can this be his target?’

    “It’s exactly what we all do this for – days or a moment like that, where you give the owners as a hug and we’re all like buzzing, because he’s a horse they’ve done the journey with, that we’ve always believed in, and to then get on a stage and do that is amazing.”

    New Zealand’s Tim Price had three exciting prospects in this class. Flashy chestnut Jarillo, owned by Clifton Eventers, Shaun and Lucy Allison, Rachel and James Good, took home the highest result from the Price squad in third.

    “He doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s just a really classy little horse and keeps trying very hard,” said Tim. “It’s quite rare for such a careful horse to be so brave cross country. Today was a big test with a lot of different things. He’s done one CCI4*-S short before in Ireland, but this was definitely a step along and he dealt with it all really well.”

    Caroline Harris and D. Day were fourth (30.7). Selina Milnes and Cooley Snapchat took fifth (33.8) and Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy and Pomp And Circumstance rose 29 places from their position after dressage to finish sixth (35.8).

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