Before now, in the 43-year history of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian™ (LRK3DE), only Michael Jung had won three times in a row. On Sunday, world #1 Oliver Townend (GBR) made his mark when the two-time defending champion jumped clear under pressure to add to his record a third consecutive CCI5*-L victory at the Kentucky Horse Park and sixth career Five Star win. It was also the second Five Star victory for Ballaghmor Class, owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan.
The scores were incredibly close before show jumping, with the top eight all within a rail of the lead. Townend’s day had an unhappy start, when eighth place Cooley Master Class was spun from the final horse inspection. By the time Townend entered the Rolex Arena for his show jumping round aboard Ballaghmor Class, he was faced with needing a fault-free round to win. A successful effort and finishing score of 27.3 earned Townend a $50,000 pay day and one-year lease on a 2021 Land Rover Discovery.
“I had a plan and just went in and did it,” Townend said. “[Ballaghmor Class] was jumping exceptionally which makes my job very, very easy. My biggest concern is, I find it easy to have time penalties with him. He’s a big jumper and actually quite slow in the way he does things. It’s very easy to get stuck in gear. My biggest thing was to have a good strong pace, don’t be caught on time, and just try and get him in the position to clear the fences.”
Typically, the Rolex Arena is packed with fans on the final day of competition. Spectators were absent this year, but Townend felt there was still an atmosphere to contend with.
“The stadium itself is the most special stadium in the world for eventing. When you go in that stadium, whether it’s full to the brim or it’s completely empty, for me there is still a very strong aura because this place is so special to us,” Townend said. “Going down that chute when there are thousands of people watching or no one watching, when the pressure is on it will feel very much like the place we want to be. The pressure is still on. Of course we love a big crowd, we love to perform in front of the crowd, and we miss the crowd, but at the same time it took nothing away from the competition.”
Boyd Martin (USA) was sitting second after cross-country with his and the Turner family’s On Cue and needed a clear round to hold his placing. A rail at the first element of a double combination off a tight turn dashed his hopes of putting the pressure on Townend for the win, but with a fourth place finish on a final score of 31.8, Martin won the Land Rover/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Championship Presented by MARS Equestrian™ for the second time in a row. In 2019 he won the National Championship with Tsetserleg TSF. This year he piloted the 15-year-old mare On Cue to a National Champion title in her Five Star debut.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with On Cue. When you bring a horse to this level for the first time you don’t know quite what to expect,” Martin said. “She’s unbelievable though. She gave everything she had this weekend and exceeded my expectations. I thought it would be my other horse Tsetserleg that would have done better, but she really stepped up and tried her absolute guts out. I would have loved to jump clear today but having one pole down with this company here is still respectable.”
Martin also commented on the absence of spectators: “When I first came to Kentucky in 2006, I couldn’t believe the crowds. You’re galloping around the cross-country and there are seas of people cheering. As you get more experience you learn to focus in, but I would say this weekend I was just as nervous and terrified and there was just as much pressure. Being at the Horse Park here and the big jumps and stadium, I don’t think it was any easier not having people watching.”
The New Zealand power couple Tim and Jonelle Price placed second and third, respectively. They were also the only individuals in the competition to finish on their dressage scores with two out of five horses entered between them.
Tim and Xavier Faer moved up from equal 11th after dressage to finish second on 28.2 with no jumping or time penalties to add all week.
“I thought it was a very difficult show jumping course. It had all sorts of elements. The time wasn’t just a gimme. You had to work for the clock,” Tim said. “I thought there was an opportunity in there to jump a clear round, but I thought it was going to be difficult to manage today. I didn’t manage it on [Bango] … I managed to get it done with [Xavier Faer]. It’s not the same as being in the lead, so you can focus on your job and see where that leaves you.”
Jonelle had three horses in the competition and finished with two in the top ten. She placed third on 30.7 with Grovine de Reve, adding just 0.4 time penalties in show jumping. She and her longtime partner Classic Moet finished on their dressage score of 35.2 for seventh place.
“I’ve had him two years. He had mileage with Dan Jocelyn prior to me getting him. I haven’t been given the ride on a lot of older, more experienced horses,” Jonelle said. “It took me a year to change him a little bit and adjust him to the way I wanted him to go. That was the first year really. The next year has been fine tuning him more and more. He’s got a lot in there. He’s not the most outward horse — we’ve had to coax it out of him — but he’s got an immense amount of talent. While he’s not the fanciest, he’s a real jumper and is giving me more and more as time goes on. I was really impressed with him this week.”