Oct 20, 2023

Townend Leads A British Sweep at MARS Maryland 5 Star

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photos

Elkton, Md.—Oct. 20—After finishing second and third in the previous editions of the MARS Maryland 5 Star, world no. 1 Oliver Townend is back to try to take the win, and he’s off to a good start with Cooley Rosalent.

The pair snuck past Thursday’s leader, fellow British rider Piggy March riding Brookfield Cavalier Cruise (24.2), to take the lead on 23.1 today.

“Rosie” completed her first five-star at Luhmühlen (Germany) this summer with 20 jumping penalties on cross-country, but she’s coming into Maryland on the strength of a win in the Blenheim CCI4*-S for 8- and 9-year-olds (England) in September.

Watch Townend's test via USEF Network:

“I can't tell you how happy I am with Rosie,” said Townend of Paul Ridgeon’s 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Valent x Bellaney Jewel). “Obviously, she's still very young and inexperienced at this level, but she's done everything that we've ever asked of her at the level below. I love coming here to Maryland. I've had good experiences the last couple of years, so I was excited to bring her here and see how she coped.”

Despite the buzzy atmosphere in the main arena this afternoon, Rosie put in a workmanlike test. Townend felt he didn’t quite have her as relaxed as he wanted before he headed in, but was proud of how she handled it. “When she came in here, she pricked her ears, lifted her head, and I could ride her forward,” he said. “I was really happy with the way she coped with things. And any little mistake was me probably trying to overtell her that something was happening; like the last flying change, if I had just cantered across and asked for a flying change, she'd have done one. But I kind of said, ‘OK, one more movement left,’ sort of thing, and she then anticipated, but I loved the way she coped with it."

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht.

Great Britain's William Fox-Pitt brought Grafennacht, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz x Nachtigall) owned by Amanda Gould, for her second five-star as well, and they scored a 26.1. He’d thought about taking her to Defender Burghley, but after a failed embryo retrieval this summer and a couple of months in the field, he thought she wouldn’t be fit enough for Burghley.

“I’ve heard fantastic things about Maryland, and I thought it's really one that I would love to come to before I finally hang up my shoes, so I thought I should tick this box, and I’m certainly not disappointed—wonderful venue, great arenas, and a fantastic cross-country course. So hopefully, a good, good course that my horse will enjoy,” he said.

Fox-Pitt’s had “Lillie” since she was 5. “She's been really fun to produce,” he said. “I always believed that she had it in her to get up the levels. She gave me a super ride at Badminton this year and coped really well the conditions. She was quite inexperienced to the environment because it was her first five-star, and there was quite a big step up in that mud. I didn't even know if she’d get to the finish, but she had a really good go, and I'm hoping that she'll come on from that. She's quite a tough old thing. She's not feeling sorry for herself very often.”

Townend’s ridden Ian Stark’s cross-country course in 2021 and 2022, and says this year is definitely a step up.

“But at the same time, I think the questions are also very fair,” he said. “I think Ian Stark’s one of the best cross-country course designers that Britain's ever produced. He’s a good horseman, and he knows what horses can do and what they can see. So hopefully, it will be a smooth trip for all of us.

“Everything's there to be jumped,” he added. “It's a big, big, course. I think it's just trying to get into a good rhythm, trying to get them into a positive mindset, and then trying to find your way through those tricky combinations. I think that the problems will be widespread.”

Fox-Pitt admitted he was expecting a slightly softer course, but appreciates the “rider frightener” fences.

“Ian Stark stamps his courses, and he likes to be a rider frightener,” he said. “In the modern sport I think we're seeing less and less of rider frighteners. We're seeing many more technical, clinical courses that aren't scary. They're difficult. They're tricky, but they're not scary. And certainly, here you look at a couple of those jumps—walking down to that chevron hedge over that ditch, that’s a good old rider frightener, and it’s really good to see that new question coming out of the water jump a couple of minutes earlier. That’s a five-and-a-half-star, and I'd very much been led to believe that it was a good five-star, but it was an encouraging one, the time was quite friendly, and it was a good sort of first-time five-star experience. I would say that there's a few questions that probably aren't. So, I think we've got our work cut out.”

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