Oliver Townend will chase a stunning title hat-trick when the Festival of British Eventing concludes at Gatcombe on Sunday.
After winning the Dodson and Horrell British Novice Championship on Sonic De Sermentol and landing the Smith and Williamson Intermediate Championship aboard Note Worthy, 32-year-old Townend is also superbly-placed for an assault on the British Open trophy, a class that he has never previously won.
Going into Sunday’s showjumping and cross-country phases, Australian Andrew Hoy leads on Rutherglen after posting a dressage score of 31.5 penalties, but Townend lies second with Mr Hiho on 32.6 and third aboard his seasoned four-star campaigner Armada, with Nicola Wilson (Beltane Queen) fourth and William Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero) fifth.
“I will be giving it my best shot, that’s for sure,” said Townend, assessing the possibility of a Gatcombe clean sweep. “I will never stop trying.”
Townend led the novice section overnight with Sonic De Sermentol, and a fourth British novice crown of his career was emphatically wrapped up after the combination finished on a score of 27.7 following clear showjumping and cross-country rounds. Townend also finished second aboard Ridire Dorcha, with Polly Stockton (Stanhopes Mr Macoy) third and Piggy French (Morswood) fourth.
“This is Sonic De Sermentol’s first season eventing,” Townend added. “His owner, Stephanie d’Andrimont, bought him as a three-year-old from an auction in France, but he grew too big for her. I told Stephanie that I thought he would win this class a few months ago.”
Townend then turned on the style with Note Worthy in the intermediate, winning by a huge 12-point margin from runner-up Vittoria Panizzon (Chequers Play The Game), and third-placed Tom McEwen (Toledeo De Kerser).
“Note Worthy is a class horse that really gallops and jumps,” he said. “I was drawn early on and I knew I had good ones around me, so I couldn’t afford to hang around in the cross-country.”
Meanwhile, three-time Olympic gold medallist Hoy was delighted with his dressage performance in the open, a competition that he won 18 years ago on Darien Powers.
“I am really pleased with where the test is and thrilled with how he went,” said Hoy, of a horse that could take him to next year’s Rio Olympics. “This is the toughest one-day international in the world, and you need an experienced horse. It’s a credit to (course designer) Mark Phillips that it always produces an experienced winner.”
Former winners William Fox-Pitt (Bay My Hero), Mark Todd (NZB Campino) and Jock Paget (Clifton Lush) are in fifth, sixth and seventh places, while Hoy’s compatriot Sam Griffiths is eighth on his 2014 Badminton winner Paulank Brockagh.
Griffiths said: “There is a title on offer, and I want to win it. Gatcombe rates highly in my calendar. My main aim is Burghley, but I would love to win this along the way. It’s a tough one to win because of the hills, but if you can go well here, you can go well anywhere.”