HUDDERSFIELD-raised Oliver Townend is champing at the bit as the new 2014 eventing season steps up a gear at Oasby this weekend.
The 31-year-old reports stable star Armada to be in his best shape ever with Cooley Master Class and Skyhills Cavalier heading a stellar supporting cast of exciting youngsters.
Townend began his competitive year at Isleham in Cambridgeshire last weekend where two of his younger hopes – Colonel Joe and BGS Captain Morgan – enjoyed victories in Novice sections.
And no less than 18 eventing prospects are being put through their paces at Oasby this weekend, clearly illustrating the Yorkshireman’s strength in depth.
Skyhills Cavalier is one horse the former Salendine Nook High School pupil has particularly high hopes for, but the classy Armada remains top of the Townend Ellsemere yard tree.
The CCI four-star grand servant will begin his 2014 campaign at Lincolnshire next weekend. From there, after an appearance at Burgham, Armada will be campaigned towards CCI four-star battle at the Badminton International Horse Trials which begin on May 8.
The 17 hands-gelding is now 15-years-old and Badminton 2014 would present the 14th CCI four-star event of a career that began with Andrew Nicholson back in 2004.
But Townend says his Badminton hope is simply getting stronger each year with the Yorkshireman optimistic about his and Armada’s 2014 hopes as a whole.
Former world No 1 Townend told the Yorkshire Post: “Armada looks very, very good. He’s as well as he’s ever looked in terms of I think he looks stronger and stronger and obviously he has got a lot of experience.
“It’s just a matter of keeping his brain right because he is very highly excitable and quite a hot horse.
“There’s no point coming out saying he is going to be a different league altogether because you just don’t know with him – but at the same time he feels in great fettle.
“I think Armada will obviously be the one that turns up at Badminton but at the same time there are a good few young ones bubbling underneath there which I would be equally excited about.
“Cooley Master Class, who won his CCI two-star and was second in the Intermediate Championships at Gatcombe last year is nine now and at three-star level he should hopefully be good.
“It’s all subject to who stays sound and who keeps going but at the same time there’s a good handful such as ODT Ghareeb and Skyhills Cavalier – a good bunch of young, nice horses.
“Armada will just have three or four quiet events and then go to Badminton – simple as that. He’ll probably aim for Burgham in Northumberland and then he’ll be ending up at Badminton.
“If he goes well there we will see how it goes but hopefully after Badminton it will be a few quiet events and then prepare for Burghley. We’ll just keep plugging away.”
As if Townend was not busy enough, the Huddersfield rider has also had to make several changes to his diary with the start of the 2014 eventing season severely disrupted by the weather.
The Aston-Le-Walls and Tweseldown Horse Trials were both in the Yorkshireman’s diary until both were affected by waterlogging – the Tweseldown trials cancelled and the Aston-Le-Walls event moved to this weekend.
This weekend’s Somerford Park Horse Trials in Cheshire have also been cancelled, but there’ll be no chance to put the feet up for Townend, who has taken a staggering 18 horses to this weekend’s Oasby Horse Trials which began on Thursday and finish tomorrow.
Events at Moreton and Somerley Park International have also been cancelled, but the list of early-season commitments for Townend is still extensive.
“From Oasby I go to Lincolnshire for the Lincolnshire Horse Trials followed by Great Witchingham in Norfolk and then Gatcombe in Gloucestershire,” he added.
“Then it will be Burgham in Northumberland and then the first big one will be Belton Park in Lincolnshire.
“Then I’ve got my first International which is at Ballindenisk in Ireland and then it’s back to Burnham Market in Norfolk.”
It remains an extensive and exhaustive list – but an excited Townend wouldn’t have it any other way.
He added: “We’ve been starting early and finishing late and riding lots of horses in between and I’ve never enjoyed riding as much.
“It makes my life a hell of a lot easier when the horses that I am riding are as nice as they are.
“I’m really, really excited about the way things are going.”
n Beverley’s Gary Parsonage will take the wraps off his stable star Sligo Luckyvalier at next week’s Lincolnshire Horse Trials.
Sligo Luckyavlier is entered in an Open Intermediate class at the event which begins next Friday. Northallerton’s Nicola Wilson’s Olympic hero Opposition Buzz had also been entered at the event, but he has been withdrawn and is now set to begin his campaign at Burgham at the end of the month.
Wilson has 10 horses in action at Oasby this weekend.