Oliver Townend is back on top at Tattersalls
Ratoath, Co. Meath, Ireland
Photo: Kit Houghton/FEI
Just five weeks ago he and the talented Irish-bred grey gelding, a new ride this season, took a bruising fall at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, but the partnership was emphatically back on song at Ireland's premier event where they led from the outset.
"It's what I came to do," said Townend, "and I now just want to put the fall behind me. He's an unbelievable horse and is progressing all the time. I'm so grateful to the owners (Henry and Edna Harding) for giving me the ride."
Mary King (GBR) was also at the top of her game on Apache Sauce, an occasionally headstrong chestnut gelding, which this time was on its best behaviour in all three phases to hold onto second throughout.
Michael Ryan (IRL), last year's runner-up, performed the same feat of producing the first clear Jumping round and this elevated him a place to third on the exciting prospect Ballylynch Adventure, which he hopes will be a successor to his long-time four-star partner Old Road.
"It's easy to look good on a good jumper like him," said Ryan modestly. "My wife Trish rode him to start with but, luckily for me, he got too strong for her!"
Lucy Wiegersma (GBR) had an unfortunate Jumping round with three rails down on Granntevka Prince, dropping one place to fourth., but that result, added to the runner-up spot at Chatsworth (GBR) a fortnight ago, has propelled her into a valuable second place in the HSBC FEI World Cup Eventing rankings at this halfway stage in the season.
All the top four partnerships at Tattersalls are heading for Luhmühlen (GER) in three weeks time for the third leg of the HSBC FEI Classics.
By general rider consensus, the Cross-Country course designed by Hugh Lochore (GBR) in his fifth and final year at Tattersalls - Ian Stark (GBR) is to take over in 2011 - had been softened from last time. However, it still caused one or two episodes of extraordinary drama.
The fence that had competitors scratching their heads on their first coursewalk was the double of brush corners at fence 5. These were preceded by a big table and a sharp right-hand bend, which meant considerable control and concentration was required.
World Champion Zara Phillips (GBR), fourth after Dressage, was an early victim when High Kingdom ran out, and both Fergal Nesbit (IRL) on Flamenco Star and Joseph Murphy (IRL) on Electric Cruise were eliminated for missing flags.
Ruth Edge (GBR), equal eighth after Dressage on Westwood Mariner, had a rare lapse of concentration and jumped the wrong first fence, while Captain Brian Curran Cournane (IRL), eventual eighth, incurred extra time penalties when Dunran Castle missed the sharp bend after the water and leapt over the string and off the course.
Andrew Nicholson (NZL), fifth after Dressage, lost his reins when Armada tripped into the water and took some time to re-organise himself after the powerful chestnut galloped off on the course and had to be brought back to jump the final element. The resultant run-out and time penalties dropped him to last of the 16 finishers.
The ground had been spiked and watered, and overnight rain on Friday brought it to perfection. None of the 20 Cross-Country starters - there were three withdrawals, including Mary King, seventh after Dressage on Kings Temptress - achieved the optimum time of 7min 01sec. Townend, who retired his first horse Brigadier after a stop at the carved swan into the water, came closest with 4.8 penalties on Ashdale Cruise Master.
"He's still a relatively new ride for me and I haven't quite got to grips with the bitting department," said Townend afterwards. "He's not used to running so competitively and tends to tuck his head in and run on, but he's got a fantastic brain and I'm thrilled with this round."
1 Oliver Townend/Ashfield Cruise Master (GBR) 44.8 + 4.8 + 2 = 51.6
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