EXCLUSIVE: Huddersfield’s world no 1 Oliver Townend will never forget he’s living the dream

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Oliver Townend, on Ballaghmor Class.
ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Oliver Townend, on Ballaghmor Class.
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KENTUCKY, Badminton, Luhmuhlen, Burghley, Pau - events that are becoming customary for Huddersfield’s world no 1 Oliver Townend.

On the back of a best ever year, the aims for 2019 are surprisingly simple - to get himself in the best shape possible for eventing’s biggest prizes.

Yet no matter how common outings at five-star level become, the 36-year-old will never forget that ultimately he is still fulfilling a childhood dream.

Townend has been at the top of his sport for the past decade yet it still speaks volumes that the Yorkshireman admits 2018 was his best ever year.

Must be some going for an eventer who won both Badminton and Burghley en route to becoming world number one back in 2009.

But ten years later, the former Salendine Nook High School pupil is back ranked the best in the world following a year that featured a first and seventh at Kentucky plus runners-up berths at both Badminton and Burghley.

Staggeringly, only a married couple from New Zealand have prevented the Yorkshireman from entering 2019 having won four CCI five-stars in the space of 12 months.

Seven months after winning the 2017 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials on Ballaghmor Class, Townend set himself up for a tilt at becoming only the third rider in history to win eventing’s most lucrative prize – the Rolex Grand Slam - by then winning the Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington the following April on Cooley Master Class with MHS King Joules also seventh.

Townend was then agonisingly denied the Grand Slam by New Zealand’s Jonelle Price who savoured victory at the following week’s Badminton International as Townend and Cooley SRS finished second with Ballaghmor Class fifth.

There was then widespread shock around the eventing world as Townend was somehow overlooked by selectors for a place on the GB team at last summer’s World Equestrian Games.

But the show went on and incredibly only Jonelle Price’s husband Tim then denied Townend another five-star victory at October’s Burghley Horse Trials with Ballaghmor Class second behind Price on Ringwood Sky Boy.

The Price couple not surprisingly boast lofty placings in the world rankings with Tim third and Jonelle seventh but it is Townend that remains on top of the world and 2019 is set to once again feature another strong assault on the sport’s five stars.

Cooley SRS has since been sold but it’s all systems go for a tilt at the main prizes in 2019 with Cooley Master Class heading back to Lexington later this month and with Ballaghmor Class firmly on course for Badminton.

Cooley Master Class and rising star Ulises also hold the Badminton entry alongside Cillnabradden Evo who is already being aimed at another five-star at Luhmuhlen in June.

With Burghley and Pau then likely to be on the Autumn agenda, 2019 is shaping up to be another year dining at eventing’s top table but Townend will never be taking success or even outings at such events for granted.

Assessing the aims for 2019 in an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post, Townend pondered: “It’s just getting myself in the best shape as I possibly can for those big spring events – Badminton, Kentucky, Luhmuhlen.

“I want to be at all those events and I want to be as competitive as possible.

“I love going to the big occasion and it’s what I’ve always dreamt of as a child.

“From 11 years old, every puddle that I trotted into I leant back pretending I was going into the Badminton Lake and every wall I jumped was Tom Smith’s walls.

“I just want to get to those big ones and after actually getting there having had the preparation as good as possible. What will be, will be.”

Even three weeks shy of the year’s first five star at Kentucky, Townend’s year has already began with a bang at the lower levels.

March featured eight victories and a staggering 25 top-five finishes with the success of a best ever 2018 continuing.

Townend’s supporters will naturally now be hoping that the rider is finally recalled to the Great Britian team with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics looming after this August’s European Championships at Luhmuhlen.

The proud Brit and Yorkshireman would relish the opportunity to again fly the flag for his country but the rider aims to let his results do the talking.

“We have had probably the best winter in terms of preparation that we have ever had from the point of view of the weather,” said Townend.

“We only missed four days of work in the work of the horses through the whole of winter so far and that wasn’t because of the snow, that was actually because of ice and frost more than anything so the horses have probably gone into the season at nearly two if not three weeks ahead of where they are normally in terms of fitness.

“It looks very, very positive.

“The main boys, touch wood, are in very good form.”

Reflecting on whether 2018 was his best year yet - even better than 2009 perhaps - Townend admitted: “I’d have thought so.

“The horses firstly fulfilled all our hopes and dreams of how good they were.

“We have been saying for a long time they are a good bunch and it takes so long to produce them.

“Burghley the year before was special and then on to Kentucky which was unbelievable.

“From Burghley, Kentucky, Badminton, Burghley - not to be out of the top two in a five star with all different horses, all of which we have had from four years old was very, very good and very special really.

“I don’t really like looking back but at the same time everybody in England goes around your whole season on Badminton and Burghley when there’s a lot of other stuff.

“Touch wood, I don’t think I have had a bad season in 15 years really but at the same time obviously those Badmintons and Burghleys are very high profile.

“Those are the ones you want to be at and they have been fantastic so I suppose the last two years really have been the best years of my career.”

Typically, April has already began with success, with five-year-old mare Cooley Rosalent victorious in a BE100 at Portman last weekend.

One for the future.

On the back of last year, the only trouble for Townend is that he is now challenged with the task of bettering it. It goes without saying Yorkshire’s world no 1 is up for the challenge.

“We’ll keep trying anyway...!”