The odds weren’t in Oliver Townend’s favor heading into the final day of competition at the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three Day Event.

Equiratings Prediction Centre gave the Brit a a measly 4% win chance after his week in the Bluegrass State got off to a lacklustre 31.4 start with Cooley Rosalent in dressage. Their personal best dressage score at the five-star level is 23.1.

“I was fairly upset with myself after the dressage,” admitted Townend. “The last three times [I’ve come to Kentucky], we’ve always come home with a win from here. So I kind of thought to myself that it’s going to be a bit depressing going home on that plane and having not won.

“And then I sort of just gave myself a kick into gear and thought she’s a very good horse. And I knew she was an incredible galloper…so there’s no excuse on being too slow.

“So I just had a very clear picture in my mind of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, and if it was going to be my week, what will be will be and just do my job and try and look after her for the future, but also try and be as competitive as possible.”

The pep talk paid dividends. On cross-country, the pair added another 0.4 penalties to their score to move up the leaderboard from eighth into podium position.

Come Sunday, they climbed two more. Townend rode the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare to a cool and calculated double clear in the show jumping.

As the overnight leaders followed, the rails fell.

Great Britain’s Tom McEwan and JL Dublin suffered an unfortunate four faults at an upright vertical with a liverpool below and 1.2 time faults, which moved him from the lead into second. Countrywoman Yasmin Ingham and Banzai Du Loir knocked the poles from a narrow oxer coming into a triple combination, dropping her from second to third.

As the final horse crossed the timers, Townend topped the leaderboard with only the 0.4 time penalties on the cross country marring what would have been a perfect FOD.

It’s Townend’s fourth K3DE win and first with Cooley Rosalent.

Sourced from the famed Cooley Farm of Richard Sheane and Georgina Philips, he’s long seen the potential in the now 10-year-old Irish Sport horse he first spotted as a gangly young horse.

“I thought she was fool’s gold or make believe because she looked too good in terms of the movement and the way she carried herself as a 4-year old,” Townend said. “But once I found out the father was jumping 1.60m at the time and the mother had won the Scottish Grand National, I thought, oh my god, it’s a dream. I bought her myself and it was a big gamble for me at the time.”

The mare is a “completely different personality” to the types Townend normally competes.

“She’s pretty feisty and she needs managing that way,” he continued. “But at the same time, she feels like she loves her job in all three phases. I don’t think there’s a chink in the armor. I don’t think there’s any weakness at all. Any mistakes that you see happening is purely down to green—so lack of experience at this stage. But for me, she’s one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden.”

Kentucky’s win adds three new feathers in Townend’s already plush cap.

Townend not only cements himself in the history books with another five star victory but also in the five star history books as one of only three riders to start at a five star 100 times. This includes World Championships and Olympic appearances since his first start at Burghley in 2004.

Townend and German wunderkind Michael Jung are now tied for number of wins at Kentucky with four. Only Bruce Davidson holds more with the record of six wins.

Townend now starts as the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing live contender—for the third time. To win the title he needs to win the Badminton Horse Trials, Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in the same 12-month period. Only two riders have managed the hat trick in its 25 year history, Pippa Funnel (2003) and Michael Jung (2016).

“Third time lucky?” said Townend. “The first time I nearly killed myself trying to win it. Second time, I came second at Badminton. So, fingers crossed. It’s just an amazing position to be in.”

The Defender USEF 5*-L National Championship went to Lauren Nicholson and the crowd famous Vermiculus who finished in fifth overall. A rail kept them from finishing on the podium but you never would have guessed Nicholson was disappointed with their performance as she hugged Bug’s neck after the finish line.

“Certainly we came feeling a touch rusty because he hasn’t had a proper big outing since Pratoni [FEI World Equestrian Games in 2022],” Nicholson remarked. “But I was just very pleased, especially with the fan following he has, that I was able to deliver what he deserved to get on the day.”