What a shake up!

If you have been following along, you know that Oliver Townend (GBR) was on track to win the first Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill aboard his veteran partner Cooley Master Class…

SPOILER: he did not!

And it was an epic showdown to the finish. One you could say was years in the making…

For the past four years, Townend and USA’s Boyd Martin have squared up and duked it out at the Kentucky Three Day Event (K3DE) in Lexington, USA’s only 5* event until this week’s inaugural Maryland 5 Star.

And each time, Townend has come out on top.

The Brit won K3DE in 2018; Martin finished 11th. Townend successfully defended his title in 2019 while Martin took the runner up spot. In 2021, Townend made it an incredible threepeat after a pandemic-forced gap year in the schedule; Martin finished fourth.

On Sunday, the British Olympian’s phenomenal win streak on American soil came to an end and it was Martin who put paid to it.

With less than a rail separating first and third going into the show jumping phase—Townend on 21.1 penalties, Tim Price (NZL) on 24.3p, and Martin on 25p—and all three riders advancing on their dressage score, clear rounds were the only option.

Martin and On Cue were first to return and despite a few hearty rubs over Ken Krome’s course, managed to leave all the poles in their cups, putting the pressure on the top two.

Price, a notorious threat in show jumping, pulled an uncharacteristic rail at the second jump on course with Xavier Faer to add four penalties to their score, ultimately finishing third. “I mean, pulling a rail at the second jump of a course like this is not an amazing feeling,” conceded the New Zealander.

Then came the long awaited ride of Townend.

When the #1 ranked rider in the world enters the stadium of a 5* event to close the show, there is a palatable energy in the air. It’s positively electric. The crowd collectively held their breath as he started his course and let out a groan when he pulled a rail, handing the win to Martin.

An emotional Erik Duvander, U.S. Eventing Performance Director, went running to the warm up to tell Martin he had done it. The American Sweetheart of Eventing captured the first ever Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill and USA got the win we were all waiting for, for Martin.

“To be quite frank, Oliver [Townend] and Tim [Price] own super-duper jumpers, and I was just hoping to finish in the Top 5 today,” said Martin. “On Cue really gusted out and jumped around; I think Lady Luck was on our side. We bumped and thumped a few poles, but I never heard one come down. I couldn’t believe that I got a clear round. I would have been happy with third or second, but winning is a great privilege. [Oliver and Tim] are two riders that I’ve sort of idolized and looked up to, and I learned a bit from their mentality and their championship ideology. Today was On Cue’s day, and it’s great to win it.

“Coming into this thing, I thought I had a chance just because she was really good at Kentucky this year and was sort of my backup horse for the Olympics and was fit for that,” he continued. “I knew there was a chance but that it would be very, very competitive.

“When I saw Tim got a rail, I thought, well maybe Oliver will screw up and pull one too,” he added with a grin.

Martin’s two kids joined him on the podium and Leo (his son) asked, “Did you win?”

To which Martin exclaimed, “Yeah, we won mate!”

Feature image: ©Shannon Brinkman Photography