Wellington, Fla. – March 3, 2017 – Fresh off a win at HITS Ocala in the $100,000 FEI Nations Cup™ CSIO4* exactly two weeks ago, Team Ireland claimed their second consecutive Nations Cup victory in the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup™ CSIO4* at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) on Friday evening.
Since WEF began hosting Nations Cup competitions in 2002, Ireland has won three times: in 2005, 2016 and now 2017. This year’s Irish team consisted of Cian O’Connor, Paul O’Shea, Conor Swail and Shane Sweetnam.
“For me, I’m a very proud Irishman,” said Chef d’Équipe Michael Blake. “I’m absolutely delighted. We came here to win and we went to Ocala to win. It’s very easy to win with these guys because they’re really, really good. If you have a bit of a plan and tell them in time where they’re going, they’re going to turn up. That’s what they did on both occasions. I am delighted with this and it’s fantastic. The Irish team, not necessarily me, will be getting to this table a lot more this year.”
Eight nations were represented on Friday, competing over the difficult Ken Krome-designed course. The top six teams returned to the International Arena to ride over the same track in the second round. At the end of the first round, Teams Ireland and Brazil were tied leading the way with 0 faults. Team USA followed closely behind on 5 faults, while Teams Great Britain and Argentina were tied with 16 faults. Team Canada sat in last after the first round with 17 faults.
“It walked quite straightforward, but Nations Cups are never easy,” said O’Connor. “You have to do two rounds. You could jump a clear and then have difficulty in the second round or vice versa. Also the water we haven’t seen here yet in the circuit. Under the lights it often causes some problems. Height-wise it was a regular enough course, but when you add in the atmosphere and meaning of the Nations Cup it takes its toll. The time-allowed was just tight enough. The combination coming home was difficult, especially in the second round.”
After Sweetnam and Swail lowered the heights of two fences in the second round, O’Connor and O’Shea jumped double-clear to secure the team’s win on a final score of 4 faults, after dropping Sweetnam’s other 4-fault score.
“My horse, Ruben LS La Silla, jumped very well tonight,” said Swail. “A little unfortunate in the second round there. If I was going to do things again, I might have just took an extra step there or maybe just held onto his head a little bit more. He’s a new horse to me this year. Vanessa Mannix owns him. For me, he’s a wonderful horse and a great prospect for the future and for the Irish team. Ireland has won now three times, and thankfully I’ve been on all three. It’s been a good record for me. We all mucked in and dug in the trenches there, and I think we all did a great job tonight.”
“I think this is my tenth year in a row, and I didn’t win one until last year,” said Sweetnam. “Now it’s three in a row including Ocala. It’s great. Michael made a good plan and talked to all of the riders that were over here. Obviously myself and Cian were lucky enough to be on both teams that won, but the lads that were involved down there that won were here in the practice ring again helping out — Kevin [Babington] and Richie [Moloney]. Really, really the team spirit is fantastic. I’ve got to give it to Michael. It’s just amazing. Thanks to Michael; I know his head’s going to get a little big here, but the planning was excellent.”
O’Connor, who anchored Team Ireland on another double-clear effort in Ocala with Ronnoco Jump Ltd.’s Seringat, is thrilled with the 11-year-old Selle Français gelding’s consistent performance in Wellington on Friday.
“[Seringat] had a rest since Ocala,” said O’Connor. “Obviously it’s a very different atmosphere here. Ocala was very warm, and it was during the day. It’s a little bit easier for them in one way, because when you come down to the ring, you haven’t been working in this environment, so the horse gets a little bit fresh and lit up. He’s very careful. He knows where his legs are, and he knows to get out of the way. I’m very happy. It’s great to win. Michael made two changes to the team this week. Paul jumped a double-clear; Conor clear and four. It’s a fantastic team effort. It’s great that we have these new combinations coming along as well because we’ll need all of them for the Nations Cup series when we go back to Europe.”
“I’m very happy,” said O’Shea, who piloted Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, owned by Skara Glen Stables, to the only other double-clear performance for Team Ireland. “Nothing really fazes him so I wasn’t worried. He’s never jumped water at a show. I didn’t tell Michael that, and he never asked me so I didn’t tell him. But he has such a good mind so I didn’t think it would be a problem. We did get to jump it on Wednesday. He’s a very, very straightforward horse — very easy and adjustable.”
The all-girl team representing USA was made up of Ali Wolff, Catherine Tyree, Chloe Reid and Georgina Bloomberg with Chef d’Équipe Robert Ridland. With only 8 more faults to add to their score of 5 faults from the first round, the home team finished with second place honors with a total of 13 faults.
“I’m thrilled with how my horse went,” said Tyree referring to Bokai, owned by Mary and Joe Tyree. “He has such a great character and such a great mind. I knew once I went in the ring that everything would be okay. I jumped the first jump, and it felt like every other class that I’ve done so far down here. I couldn’t be more happy.”
Team Brazil, which was made up by Yuri Mansur, Pedro Junqueira Muylaert, Luiz Francisco De Azevedo and Eduardo Menezes with Chef d’Équipe Pedro Lacerda, rounded out the top three nations represented on the podium on Friday evening, after incurring 16 faults in the second round to make up their final score.
O’Connor concluded Friday’s win saying, “Everyone helps each other. We’re entering into a new era in Irish show jumping. We’ve got eight riders in the top 50. We have done very well. I’ve been on the team for a long time, but the championship and team success have been a little bit lacking. There’s a new high performance committee in place in our federation. There’s also a new chef d’équipe being appointed in the next couple of weeks. So I think there’s a new era beginning, and it starts with people working together and helping each other. We’ve seen that very much the last couple of weeks so I’m certainly very excited for the future of the team.”