There were quizzical looks from the eventing world at the omission of the world’s best rider, a four-time CCI four star winner and seven-time British no 1.
Only New Zealand’s world no 2 Tim Price denied the Yorkshireman a fifth top level win at last weekend’s Burghley Horse Trials with Townend second in his second CCI four-star in a row.
Missing out on WEG naturally hurt – but the 35-year-old has now remarkably finished first, first, second and second in his last four CCI four stars with three star victories arriving at Blair, Burgham, Osborne, Baborowko and Chatsworth in between.
It means that despite not boarding the plane to WEG, Townend is delighted with recent progress, hailing “some of the best days of my career” and still determined in the long term to win medals for Team GB. Townend’s omission from the Great Britain team heading for the World Equestrian Games came three months after a near miss for the 2009 double Burghley and Badminton winner at this year’s Badminton Horse Trials.
Bidding to become only the third rider in history to win the Rolex Grand Slam of consecutive CCI four star victories at Burghley, Kentucky and Badminton, Townend approached Sunday’s showjumping finale sat second on 2017 Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class but level on penalty points with New Zealand’s Jonelle Price on Classic Moet who had jumped nearer the optimum time over cross country.
Two fences down over Sunday’s showjumping finale dropped Townend and Ballaghmor Class down to fifth with Cooley SRS ultimately finishing second behind Price.
The following month, Townend’s ‘big three’ Ballaghmor Class, Cooley SRS and Kentucky winner Cooley Master Class then all featured on the British Equestrian Federation’s long list of riders nominated for potential selection to represent Great Britain at next month’s World Equestrian Games.
Great Britain’s selectors then caused reverberations round the eventing world when opting not to select Townend when announcing the final team of five in August with Team GB instead set to be represented by Tina Cook (Billy The Red), Ros Canter (Allstar B), Gemma Tattersall (Arctic Soul), Piggy French (Quarrycrest Echo) and Tom McEwen (Toledo de Kerser). As far as 2018 Burghley went, Townend was again the best-placed Brit with the rider finishing second on Ballaghmor Class and 12th on Cooley SRS with MHS King Joules withdrawn before showjumping after a stunning dressage test was followed by 10.4 penalties over cross country.
At the sharp end of the competition, Townend found himself in the unusual position of this time being denied victory by his Badminton victor Jonelle Price’s husband as Tim Price’s success on Ringwood Sky Boy completed a dream double for the New Zealand married couple.
Townend held dreams of competing for Team GB at the World Equestrian Games but a stellar set of recent results – unquestionably the most consistent in the world at present – has the rider thrilled with recent progress and ultimately still hoping to produce similarly strong performances for his country in the years to come.
“I was absolutely delighted with all three of my horses at Burghley,” Townend exclusively told The Yorkshire Post.
“Ballaghmor Class and Cooley SRS are still relatively inexperienced at this level and for them to come out and perform like this time and time again is astonishing.
“These horses are giving me some of the best days of my career and I am very lucky to have them and their incredibly supportive owners.
“Obviously not being selected to represent Great Britain at WEG came as a disappointment to me, my team and my owners.
“However, all things considered I couldn’t be happier with our season so far. I am going to continue to work as hard as I possibly can and hope that I will get the opportunity to win medals for my country once again.”
Just 0.6 penalty points separated Townend and Price heading into last weekend’s Burghley showjumping finale but Price and Ringwood Sky Boy produced a clear inside the time to emerge victorious with a penalty score of 27.30.
Townend and Ballaghmor Class put one fence down but even a clear would not have been enough for victory. Price captured £95,000 for his efforts, with Townend taking £50,000 for second spot.
Multiple Burghley champion Andrew Nicholson finished third on 2018 Bramham CCI three-star runner up Swallow Springs, with Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet fourth, Piggy French and Vanir Kamira fifth and Harry Meade on Away Cruising sixth.
Harrogate’s Hazel Towers also excelled in her first ever CCI four-star with Simply Clover producing a clear cross country round en route to completing Burghley and finishing 33rd as part of a fine event for Yorkshire in which Townend again proved the toast of Britain.
“I couldn’t he happier with the performances of my horses,” said the former Salendine Nook High School pupil. “I have been beaten by a very consistent, top-class pairing, and my horses have hopefully got an awful lot of years to go.
“It has been an unbelievable Burghley. It is always the highlight of my year, and always very special. I am very happy. The horses have given their best, and I have given mine.”