Townend setting sail on Armada in his campaign to get back on top of world

HUDDERSFIELD star Oliver Townend’s eventing season is up and running with all roads leading to May’s Badminton International Horse Trials.

The first CCI four-star event of 2013, it is there that stable star Armada will look to build on a promising 2012.

Armada remains the Yorkshireman’s flagbearer, but Townend says he is blessed with a string boasting strength in depth, including a host of youngsters bubbling below the surface.

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Townend, 30, is nearly three weeks into the new season which began at Aston-Le-Walls on March 2.

That outing has been succeeded by appearances at Isleham, Aston Le-Walls, Tweseldown, Oasby and Lincolnshire with a trip to Great Witchingham next on the agenda on Friday followed by Sunday’s visit to Gatcombe.

The events are coming thick and fast, but that is very much by design with Townend full of energy and optimism in analysing his equine hopes for 2013.

“You just have to make the best of what you’ve got and I’ve got some really good horses which again should be extremely competitive, including Rob Nicholson’s former ride Armada that was fourth at Burghley,” Townend told the Yorkshire Post.

“He goes to Badminton and if all’s well again, there is no reason why he shouldn’t do well there.

“Pretty much all the events I’m looking forward to and I will try to be competitive at whatever level I am competing at.

“Armada is at the top level already, but there’s a horse called Outside Chance who only did a few events last year.

“He is a new ride who was at Blenheim and again he should finish at top level this year. He’ll be aimed at Blenheim and I’ve got high hopes for him.

“I’ve also got a new ride called Trescothick who has been tricky in the past with his previous yards but, at the same time, he has got a lot of talent so, hopefully, he will do something.

“Beneath that there are a lot of good young horses – ODT Ghareeb, who was in the eight-year-old class at Blenheim last year, and he should end up doing a CCI three-star at Tattersalls.

“Hopefully, he will end up at top level and definitely CCI three-star anyway.

“I’ve got a good amount of horses just below top level and if I do my job right then there is no reason why they shouldn’t be competing very well.”

Recently turned 30, world No 5 and British No 2 Townend has time on his side.

He has 21 years on 51-year-old world No 1 Andrew Nicholson and 14 years on 44-year-old world No 2 William Fox-Pitt.

The Huddersfield star’s relative youth is matched by a stack of promising young equine talent in the yard with the world No 5 particularly excited by eight-year-old Cooley Master Class.

“He’s by a stallion that we actually own called Ramiro B and we have high hopes for him,” he said.

“He has the potential to be very, very good and he is eight this time – he was in Le Lion for the seven-year-old World Championships and that got cancelled.

“He’s still got his two-star to do, but he feels like the real deal.”

Just as Townend also hopes to underline his credentials as the real deal.

The Yorkshireman admitted to the Yorkshire Post at the beginning of the month that he was upset and somewhat mystified to discover he had been taken off Team GB’s elite World Class performance programme, despite being ranked fifth in the world.

But resilient Townend plans to bite back by becoming No 1 in the HSBC FEI world eventing rankings list and is going all out to topple Nicholson and Fox-Pitt as quickly as possible.

The Huddersfield ace has been ranked at the top of the world list once before, in 2009, and it is that mantle that he yearns for the most.

That will mean a demanding dedication to the cause and an extremely busy schedule, but that is quite all right with Townend, even if he does admit to somewhat missing out on practically any time at his Yorkshire home.

“My mum and dad are living in Cheshire and I have got a lot of family there,” said Townend, whose own stable is based in Ellesmere, Shropshire.

“But my grandma is still in Yorkshire so I go back and see her every so often, but not as much as I would like to.

“I’ve still got a lot of friends there and I try and get back occasionally, but I am not at my own home long enough – let alone being in Yorkshire.”

Assessing the rankings situation he added: “Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt have been really my only rivals and since I was 22 the rankings haven’t really changed that much.

“There’s been three of us since I was 22 consistently in the top three.

“We’ve all altered positions, but it’s never really changed and those two guys are definitely the top of the world in my opinion.

“They have got the best strings in the world at this stage and that’s where I want to be and I just hope that I get there before they knock off.

“But there’s no reason why either of them shouldn’t keep going for a good bit longer with the horse power they’ve got. If I was them, I’d certainly be still going.

“The rankings situation is good, but I’m not quite content.

“But, at the same time, it should be better this time again.

“On my worst year I have been third in the country so you hope to be in the top three and with the world ranking you just try to push it higher.

“We have been there once before (to No 1 in the world) and, hopefully, we will get there again soon enough.

“Being No 1 in the world is the position that I am comfortable with, I still think.

“I love doing the job that I do, like everybody else, but it just makes it all worthwhile when compared to your fellow competitors, that’s where you are ranked. Rightly, I won’t be happy until we get back there.”