L to R: Kevin Babington, Cian O’Connor, Chef d’Equipe Michael Blake, Richie Moloney and Shane Sweetnam. (Simon Stafford/FEI)
Ocala (USA), 17 February 2017 – A superb double clear from Cian O’Connor clinched victory for Ireland at the second leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2017 series at Ocala (USA). In a competition filled with the unpredictability that makes this team sport so immensely popular, it was the host nation that lined up second ahead of Canada in third and Mexico in fourth place. Colombia was the only other country to finish when the three-rider side from El Salvador withdrew after posting a big first-round score and Venezuela failed to put a first-round result on the board despite a great opening clear from Emanuel Andrade.
There were two agendas at play as Canada, El Salvador, Mexico and USA were also chasing qualifying points for the series final in this first leg of the North America, Central America and Caribbean League. Team USA, came out on top in that contest, and go into the next leg with a 10-point lead over hosts, Mexico, at Coapexpan in May.
The Irish were already leading with just four faults after the first round following clears from both O’Connor (37) and pathfinder Shane Sweetnam (36) with Chaqui Z, and counting just the single mistake at the influential penultimate triple combination for Kevin Babington (48) and Shorapur. Close behind were USA and Mexico carrying eight faults each while the Canadians were just one fence further adrift on 12 as the second round began. Despite a lovely double-clear from Tiffany Foster and Victor, however, Canada slipped out of contention and an additional 16 faults also put paid to Mexican chances. So it came down to a tussle between Ireland and USA when the home side’s McLain Ward (Rothchild) and Lauren Hough (Comet) both faulted at the third element of the triple combination this time out and Lillie Keenan’s Super Sox put a foot in the water which became quite a bogey in round two.
When Sweetnam and Babington each put four on the board and Richie Moloney (35) once again collected 12 faults with Carrabis Z it was left to O’Connor to save the day. By now American star Beezie Madden had posted a fabulous double-clear with Breitling LS to round the US total to 16, so if the Irishman had a fence down then his side would be forced into a jump-off, and any more than that would give the host nation the win.
But the rider who took individual bronze at the London 2012 Olympic Games didn’t flinch, steering the hard-pulling Seringat to a superb fault-free run to clinch it. “I think this was my 111th Nations Cup!” said the man who loves team competition and is keen to see his country becoming more competitive at championship level again. “Sometimes winning becomes a habit, and in Ireland we need to get back into that habit. Nations Cups are the best because they teach riders to work together, and we need to do that to get back to where we belong!”
The FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping 2017 series will resume with the first leg of Europe Division 1 at Lummen (BEL) in April.
Full result here
Cian O’Connor IRL, talking about the penultimate triple combination (vertical, vertical, wide oxer) which fell on numerous occasions during the class: “It was a good combination but it was at the end of the course and the colour was strange: it was a bright golden yellow, a bit of an optical illusion, and you had to get there in good balance to leave it up. Even in the second round people were getting confused about how to ride it!”
Shane Sweetnam IRL: “We came here with the intention to try to win; Michael (Blake, Chef d’Equipe) did a great job keeping all the boys in line and the course designer did a fantastic job. It (the course) walked nice but it was tough in places: not a walk in park – the combination took a bit of jumping but we were quite confident coming here and Cian came up trumps in the end to really deliver it for us!”
Cian O’Connor IRL: “I only got Seringat in November; he’s a bit difficult to get around the course sometimes but I was impressed how he jumped that combination today; he allowed me ride him and I’m very pleased with him.”
Course designer Marina Azevedo BRA: “I’m very happy; this was my first Nations Cup and I thank you for giving me this opportunity. It was tough enough for the group; it’s very hard to build for different groups – you have very high level riders and horses and at the same time we have a middle level, so we can’t put anyone in danger, so we have to think a little bit about the height and spread and we can put different distances, because this is a little bit hard. I think I’m happy and I hope the riders enjoyed my course!”
Thomas Struzzieri, President and CEO HITS, Inc.: “It’s my second-favourite result having the Irish win; this was a terrific day for showjumping and HITS!”
Michael Blake, Irish Chef d’Equipe: “I came from (looking after) underage ranks in Ireland. I got a call from them few months ago (to become riders’ representative on the governing body) and I’m very proud to represent the best bunch of riders in the world! We are a small country but we keep doing it all the time and these are great guys to work with. We don’t need to make too many changes in the future; we have eight riders in the world’s top 50 and that’s not an accident. We just need to circle our wagons now, and we intend to do 24 Nations Cup events this year and we intend to be sitting at this winner’s table many times again!”
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By Louise Parkes
Manager Press Relations
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