Festival of British Eventing, Gatcombe, report
Oliver Townend became the first British rider for five years to win The British Open Championship at The Festival of Eventing, presented by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA), with a brilliant piece of riding on the talented but quirky Cillnabradden Evo.
The competition, which incorporated the fourth leg of the Event Rider Masters (ERM), built to a thrilling climax as riders faulted under the pressure of the occasion and the lead rapidly changed hands.
Ireland’s Elizabeth Power, one of the fastest riders across the country, set the standard with just 1.6 time penalties on Souladoun and rose from 17th after show jumping to eventual third place with the fastest time of the day.
She just overhauled Australian Paul Tapner, who jumped five places to fourth on Yogi Bear Vlll and now holds a commanding lead in the ERM points table with two events to go.
The speedy Power enjoyed quite a lengthy stay on top of the podium – leading challengers Matthew Heath (One of a Kind ll), Sara Squires (Sula Blue) and Izzy Taylor (KBIS Briarlands Matilda) all had run-outs, Taylor’s being particularly unfortunate when the mare tripped on the downhill slope to the last water, and Blyth Tait, eventual eighth, incurred extra time penalties when Bear Necessity V napped at the start.
Power was eventually unseated from the top spot on the podium by Frenchman Thomas Carlile (Upsilon), who took the runner-up position, and then the pair of them had to watch and wait as Townend set off on Cillnabradden Evo, the horse having fallen at the last fence last year when in contention under Andrew Nicholson.
Townend set “Gary” up beautifully for every fence but the big black gelding was visibly tiring on the final pull to the finish; fortunately, their prowess in the first two phases meant they had a comfortable cushion of time in hand and comfortably secured the win by 6.3 penalties.
“Gatcombe is a very special place to me, so this win means a lot,” said a breathless 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.”
Oliver Townend is one of Gatcombe’s most successful riders; he won the National title in 2013, and has also won the Intermediate title three times and the Novice title four times. He is also the first British rider in the inaugural Event Rider Masters series, the last three competitions having gone to France, China and New Zealand.