A brilliant performance aboard Cillnabradden Evo earned Oliver Townend the British Open at the Festival of Eventing at Gatcombe. The Yorkshireman was the first British rider in five years to win the title.
The competition, which doubled as leg four of the inaugural Event Rider Masters series, was hotly contested, with the rankings being overhauled first in the morning’s showjumping — where dressage leader Andrew Hoy and Cheeky Kalimbo had a bad time, slipping to 19th place and eventually deciding to withdraw — and then in the afternoon’s cross-country phase.
Ireland’s Elizabeth Power and Soladoun set the pace across country with just 1.6 time penalties — the fastest time of the day, which brought the pair from 17th place to first and, ultimately, third. “I can’t fault my horse today, he tried his heart out and was absolutely brilliant,” said a delighted Power.
Their lead looked unassailable for a time with several challengers having run-outs — including Izzy Taylor, who had looked poised for success after earning second place in the showjumping but was unlucky in the cross-country when her mare, KBIS Briarlands Matilda, tripped on the slope to the last water.
Eventually, though, Power lost top spot to Thomas Carlile and Upsilon. The French duo were in third place after the showjumping and their combined score put them firmly ahead of Power and Soladoun. Their success piled the pressure on last-to-go Townend but the Yorkshireman displayed nerves of steel.
Towned steered Cillnabradden Evo masterfully across the course, steadying the pace when it looked like the black gelding was tiring. Thanks to their earlier showjumping clear and an excellent dressage score, the pair had enough time in hand to win the British open title by 6.3 penalties.
“This win means a lot,” said Townend. “We know that the horse hasn’t got great speed over distance and, although he’s very genuine, he can do the odd thick thing, so I was just trying to conserve his energy and get him home safely. I honestly thought the win had gone.”
Townend is also the first British rider to win a leg of the Event Rider Masters series — the previous legs went to France’s Astier Nicolas, China’s Alex Hua Tian and New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson. “We hope to aim Cillnabradden Evo at the remaining ERM competitions this year, as on his day he is a very competitive horse, which he has just proven,” Townend added. “He was very good today and I feel built for this sort of class, I am delighted for him.”
“Gatcombe is a special place, I’ve been coming here since I was eight years old and I love it,” he continued. “It’s been a lucky event for me as I think it’s my eighth championship win here. The prize money is pretty good, too — I need to make a living and the £16,000 today certainly helps!”
Second-placed Carlile, who missed a spot on the French Olympic eventing team, also had cause to celebrate after earning the £12,000 prize. “This is a real consolation for us after missing the ticket to Rio and as it turns out I was obviously a lot better off coming here,” he said. “There were some big cross-country questions for Upsilon as he’s so young, but he coped so well. He’s fast, although I think he was feeling the burn on the last hill but he tried his heart out today, I’m very proud of him.”
Equally happy was Australia’s Paul Tapner, who finished fourth at Gatcombe aboard Yogi Bear VIII and earned valuable points to consolidate his lead in the Event Rider Masters series. He now tops the leaderboard with 87 points, ahead of Gemma Tattersall (66 points) and Astier Nicolas (59 points).
The next leg of the series takes place at Blair Castle on August 27 and 28.
Images: top, Oliver Townend rides Cillnabradden Evo at the British Open Championship; bottom, the Gatcombe podium, both by Kit Houghton and Eventridermasters.tv, courtesy of Event Rider Masters