Oliver Townend wins Kentucky on Ballaghmor Class: ‘It wasn’t the way I believed he’d do it, but we got there in the end’ *H&H Plus*

  • Find out how what Kentucky winner Oliver Townend said about Ballaghmor Class, pressure and why the US wait for a winner at their home five-star continues…

    By Nancy Jaffer

    Although it seemed as if much went against Oliver Townend this week, nothing – not a disappointing dressage test, a lost shoe in a rainstorm on a difficult cross-country trip, or the letdown of having a mount spun in the horse inspection– could stand in the way of topping the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 final results, his third consecutive victory in the five-star at the Kentucky Horse Park.

    After days of questionable weather, the sun finally shone on his faultless showjumping round with Ballaghmor Class, who had no margin for error but didn’t need one.

    “He’s come and done what I thought he would do. It wasn’t the way that I believed he would do it, but we got there in the end,” said Oliver, noting how pleased he was that British selectors and team management were at the competition watching Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s horse, so they could “actually see and witness him being at his toughest” to earn “another feather in his cap” and hopefully a trip to the Olympics.

    “He has an extra gear in comparison to most horses, so when you think, ‘Oh, he really can go,’ he used to go when you didn’t want him to go, like it was more his choice than yours. He’s got an extreme amount of power, an extreme amount of talent and now he’s very, very professional about his job.”

    Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 final results: Oliver Townend wins on Ballaghmor Class

    Oliver Townend on his way to Kentucky 2021 victory with Ballaghmor Class. Credit: Nancy Jaffer

    The horse appeared at the awards ceremony with a groom on either side of him keeping a firm hold. When he was let off the leads for the victory gallop, you could see he was really enjoying himself as he made three laps of the arena as his rider saluted the sparse crowd, limited to riders, owners, sponsors, volunteers and staff, because the US Equestrian Federation isn’t allowing fans to attend shows due to Covid.

    Although he finished in triumph collecting a $50,000 cheque, Oliver’s day didn’t start well, when Cooley Master Class, his two-time Kentucky winner in 2018 and 2019, was spun at the Kentucky Three Day Event 2021 final trot-up after being a bit sore from a cut on one leg. Oliver said he understood it was a horse welfare issue, and turned his laser focus on preparing Ballaghmor Class for the drama of the event’s finale.

    Second place in the Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 final results by a whisker went to New Zealand’s Tim Price, third in 2019, the last time the event was held since the 2020 edition was cancelled due to Covid. He was aboard Xavier Faer, the same horse he rode in his last appearance at the event. Third after cross-country, he finished on his dressage score. His mark of 28.2 left no leeway for Oliver as he rode his game gray gelding into the ring with a total of 27.3 penalties to tackle the route set by 2008 Olympic showjumping course-designer Steve Stephens.

    For Oliver, that kind of “big ask” was routine.

    “Tim has me under pressure every week in England,” Oliver said with a what probably was a grin, though you couldn’t see it behind his mask, mandatory for all at the Horse Park. “You kind of get used to the feeling.”

    Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 final results: best of the home side

    A bit of the suspense ended when the USA’s Boyd Martin, second after cross-country, had a knockdown with five-star debutante On Cue, enabling Tim to rise one place and pushing Boyd to fourth. Boyd was still the top American for the second year in a row on 31.8 penalties, though he dropped from being runner-up in 2019 on Tsetserleg TSF.

    Kentucky Three-Day Event 2021 final results: runners-up Tim Price ands Xavier Faer

    New Zealander Tim Price was the runner-up at Kentucky 2021 on his reliable Xavier Faer. Credit: Nancy Jaffer

    Boyd was the only American in the top-seven ribbon winners; the crew that flew over from Europe made almost a clean sweep of the top placings. No American has won the event since 2008, when Phillip Dutton managed to achieve that distinction.

    Asked why, as a veteran of the Kentucky test, Oliver thought it hadn’t happened, he said “it isn’t lack of horsepower” but felt it wasn’t his place to elaborate on the reasons for the US shortfall.

    Jonelle Price came up from equal sixth with Grovine De Reve to finish right behind her husband, Tim, on 30.7 penalties with 0.4 time faults. She also was seventh with Classic Moet (35.2), who finished on her dressage score. Great Britain’s Harry Meade had an unlucky rail with Superstition to finish fifth (33.6) followed by Kevin McNab of Australia aboard Scuderia 1918 Don Quidam (34.3).

    It was amazing to think that the five-star, which was cancelled in February because organisers felt they couldn’t run without spectators, wound up as a rousing success after being put back on the calendar through a grassroots fundraising effort.

    Boyd noted that having so many top foreign riders come over to compete “made the Kentucky five-star the greatest five-star in the world for the last two years,” and he got a laugh, since there was only one five-star, France’s Pau, in 2020. But he added with the calibre of horses and riders at the Horse Park “it almost felt like a championships.”

    Look back at Kentucky: