Townend Takes His Fourth Defender Kentucky Win on a Special Mare

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photos

As published by US Eventing.

Lexington, KY. — While Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent started the weekend at the Defender Kentucky CCI5*-L a bit down the leaderboard in a tie for eighth after dressage, the world No. 1 can never be ruled out for a five-star win.

Townend and “Rosie” climbed the leaderboard yesterday with just .4 time penalties on cross-country, and today they earned a nail-biting win after both the leader, fellow British rider Tom McEwen on JL Dublin, and second-placed Brit Yasmin Ingham on Banzai du Loir, had single rails over Steve Stephens’ show jumping course.

It was Townend’s fourth Kentucky win, and his 100th five-star start.

“I was fairly upset with myself after the dressage,” Townend admitted of his 31.4 score. “The last three times up until this we’ve always gone home with a win from here, so I thought to myself that it might be a bit depressing going home on that plane having not won. Then I gave myself a kick into gear and thought, she’s a very good horse, and I knew she was an incredible galloper.”

Townend was in a position to win at the MARS Maryland 5 Star last fall, but two rails down in show jumping dropped he and Rosie to third.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent.

“I had a plan in my head after Maryland last year. I mucked that one up,” he said. “She should have won that one, and I got in her way in the show jumping. She had one mistake, I had one mistake. I just had a very clear picture in my mind of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. If it was going to be my week, what would be would be, so I just did my job and tried to look after her for the future, but also try and be as competitive as possible. I was lucky that it didn’t go the other two guys’ ways. They’re very established and famously good-jumping horses, so the pressure was kind of off me in a way, which I quite enjoyed. Normally it’s going in there and being in Tom’s position and having a fence down.”

Rosie, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Valent x Bellaney Jewel) owned by Diana and Paul W. Ridgeon, is well-bred to succeed in the sport—her dam won the Scottish Midlands Grand National.

While she was a pricey 4-year-old, Townend knew she had five-star potential and took the gamble. With this win, Rosie’s now completed three five-stars.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the horse,” he said. “We’ve had her since she was 4 years old, and it’s a great boost for Cooley Farm again. I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Most of the staff’s been with me for 15 years. We’ve had very good days and very bad days, and today we’ll definitely celebrate.”

He described Rosie as tough, but not mareish. “She definitely knows her job. She’s not mare-y, but she knows what she wants,” he said. “She’s definitely a completely different personality to the likes of [his five-star winner] Ballaghmor Class. She’s pretty feisty, and she needs managing that way, but at the same time, she feels like she loves her job in all three phases. I don’t think there’s a chink in the armor. I don’t think there’s any weakness at all. Any mistake you see happening is purely down to greenness or lack of experience at this stage, but for me, she’s one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden.”

After his win, Townend’s now in the position to win the Rolex Grand Slam of eventing. He won Burghley (England) last fall on Ballaghmor Class, and a win at Badminton (England) in two weeks could give him a big paycheck.

“It’s a huge privilege to be in this position for the third time,” he said. “The first time I nearly killed myself trying to win it, and the second time I came second at Badminton. Fingers crossed. It’s an amazing position to be in with such an incredible sponsorship as Rolex.”

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin finished in second place.

McEwen was nearly home with JL Dublin when they toppled the penultimate fence, which dropped them to second place. James and Jo Lambert and Deirdre Johnston’s 13-year-old warmblood gelding (Diarado x Zarinna) has been putting in good results with McEwen since they paired up in the summer of 2022, but there have been a few blips along the way. After this weekend, McEwen feels he’s got a strong partnership with “Dubs.”

“Dubs has been amazing,” he said. “I really feel like we’ve cemented our partnership this weekend. He’s such a nice, polite, kind character, and Nicola [Wilson, his former rider] has done the most extraordinarily great job with him. It’s just taken me some time to find the path with him. Today in the show jumping, he’s such a great jumper, but it was just one of those things. I’m sure I’ll beat myself up about it, but I’ve only got a week to do it and then back to Badminton.”

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir finished third.

Ingham had a score to settle on cross-country this weekend after picking up a runout last year, and she came into the show jumping today in second place. One rail down dropped her to third, but she was still thrilled with a podium finish.

“I think overall he jumped super today, just had a really unlucky rub on an oxer,” she said. “Overall, I’m delighted with him. It wasn’t our day, and everything happens for a reason, and I’ll come out stronger next time. I’m absolutely delighted with him from the beginning of the week until today. It’s really exciting to be on the podium at a five-star in a very important year.”

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus were the top U.S. pair.

Lauren Nicholson and crowd favorite Vermiculus were the top U.S. finishers in fifth, adding just a rail to their score. As a result, they earned the Defender/USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Championship. Buck Davidson and his own 13-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Sorocaima (Rock Hard Ten x Sankobasi) jumped a strong clear round to finish as the reserve champions and took overall sixth place.

“We came feeling a touch rusty because he hasn’t had a proper big outing since Pratoni [the FEI World Eventing Championship in 2022], and especially because in his career he hasn’t actually missed a season before,” she said of Jacqueline Mars’ 17-year-old Anglo-Arabian gelding (Serazim x Wake Me Gently). “We certainly came here wanting to be competitive, and he has the experience to do so. I would’ve liked to beat this lot! I was very pleased, especially because he has such a fan following. He’s such a character anyway that I was able to deliver what he deserved to get on the day.”

This was Nicholson’s third national championship. Phillip Dutton holds the record at five.

Stephens’ course caused some shakeups on the leaderboard. Only Townend and German rider Malin Hansen-Hotopp (Carlitos Quidditch K) jumped double-clear, while three pairs jumped clear over fences but had time.

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