By Ben Hart at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials
Oliver Townend pledged a Paris 2024 pursuit with masterful mount Ballaghmor Class after the ‘biggest’ win of his career at the 2023 Defender Burghley Horse Trials.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallist won his third Burghley crown in the most dramatic circumstances, usurping world No.1 rider Tim Price on the final day in Lincolnshire.
Townend turns 41 in November while his golden gelding will be 17 by the time the action begins in the French capital, but Townend reckons their best days could still be ahead of them.
“My head is a mess, I’m so proud of the horse,” said Townend.
“We’ve had him since word go and he’s been such a superstar. Every 5* you go to you feel he deserves it for turning up and being who he is.
“Captain Mark Phillips (Team GB selector) asked if I would retire him and I’ve said, 'no, we’re going to the Olympics.'
“Who knows but he’s better than ever, sounder than ever. Whatever competition you put him in, going into show jumping, he’s always there, so why not?”
Townend headed into the third and final phase in second place, just 2.3 marks behind New Zealand’s Price after the dressage and cross-country rounds of the famed 5* event.
A faultless show jumping display from fellow Paris hopeful David Doel knocked Townend into third and after a run with just one mistake propelled him into first, he faced an anxious wait as leader Price entered the arena.
The Kiwi, onboard Vitali, faltered under the pressure, with three errors dropping him back to fourth allowing Harry Meade to complete an all-British podium.
In addition to the gold he won alongside Tom McEwen and Laura Collett in Tokyo, Townend has now won eight 5* events but admits this achievement tops the list.
“I love winning but the bigger the win, the better,” he said.
“This is probably the biggest one of my career with where we’re at. We’ve been through a change in terms of joining the Caunton team and how’s it going to work, was it going to work.
“This has cemented that we’re doing the right things.
“If nothing else we never give up, it’s very special.”
And after his second Burghley win with Ballaghmor Class, Townend reflected on his enduring love for the event, 14 years after his first success with Carousel Quest.
“Every Burghley win is nearer to the end so they get more and more special,” he added.
“I was lucky enough when I was 26 and naïve and wild and drunk to go and win the first one without even knowing it.
“It’s a very special event to myself and my family and we have a lot of love for it, it's the greatest event in the world.”
Defender Burghley Horse Trials (31st August - 3 September 2023) has been a major international sporting and social event for over 50 years. It attracts the world’s top equestrians and over 170,000 visitors. For more information visit www.burghley-horse.co.uk