THE Irish Show Jumping team of Shane Sweetnam, Darragh Kenny, Bertram Allen and Cian O’Connor, managed by Michael Blake, finished in fifth place in last Friday’s Longines FEI Nations Cup of France in La Baule.
Many of the world’s top teams were using the fixture to test the form of combinations, ahead of the looming Olympic team selection deadline for this summer’s Games in Tokyo and they produced a tense and exciting afternoon of top competition.
Ireland, who are the reigning Longines FEI Nations Cup world champions, were in share of the lead with Switzerland at the halfway stage on a zero score. Cork’s Shane Sweetnam was the first Irish rider to enter the arena with ‘Karlin Van’t Vennehof’, owned by Seabrook LLC, and they left all the fences standing – finishing with just a time fault. Offaly’s Darragh Kenny then jumped clear with ‘VDL Cartello’, who is owned by Lorcan Gallagher and Heathman Farm LLC and that was followed by another perfect clear from Wexford’s Bertram Allen with the Irish Sport Horse, ‘Pacino Amiro’, owned by Aiden McGrory.
Ireland were assured to finish the first round on at worst just a time fault and in second place, with the last line riders left to jump, but a clear from anchor rider Cian O’Connor would put Ireland in a share of the lead with Switzerland. An ice cool clear round from O’Connor and the Susan Magnier-owned Irish Sport Horse ‘Kilkenny’ saw Ireland match the Swiss first round effort of a zero score heading into round two. Britain and Italy were lurking close behind in joint third on just a time fault, while Belgium were also in the hunt on four faults.
Sweetnam got Ireland underway in the second round with a four-fault score – the same as the first Swiss rider, meaning the two countries still could not be separated, while Italy began to apply the pressure when their first rider in the second round jumped clear. Darragh Kenny looked set to complete a double clear performance, but a foot in the water saw him finish with four faults aboard ‘VDL Cartello’. That moved Italy into the lead on a time fault, with Ireland, Switzerland and Belgium then tied for second on four faults, with two riders remaining for each team.
Bertram Allen and ‘Pacino Amiro’ (ISH) followed in the footsteps of Sweetnam and Kenny to also finish with four faults second time out and that put Ireland onto a best possible score of eight faults heading into the last line of riders. Cian O’Connor and ‘Kilkenny’ (ISH) came agonisingly close to a double clear round when last to go, however the very last fence fell to leave them with the same four-fault score as his three fellow team members in the second round.
A strong finish by Switzerland saw them claim victory on a four-fault score, while Italy took runner-up spot on seven faults. Belgium on eight faults took third with Britain fourth (nine), just ahead of Ireland in fifth on 12 faults.
Speaking afterwards, Irish team manager Michael Blake said Ireland needed to perform better in the second round: “I was very happy with our performance in round one and we needed to do the same in the second round, but we didn’t do it. We had four mistakes in the second round and there is no point in saying that we were unlucky – we just didn’t finish the job. We had a very good chat about it after the competition and I believe we won’t make those mistakes again. We learned a lot from our performance today. We had two nine-year-old horses on the team and all our horses showed great promise. We are very grateful to be in a position to compete here today, thanks to our owners, grooms and support staff. I feel that we have a very strong squad of horses and riders and I am very excited about what we can achieve over the coming months.”
Ireland’s next five-star FEI Nations Cup outing in Europe Division 1 will be at Sopot in Poland next Friday, June 18.
Kilkenny (ISH) – 2012 gelding by Cardento (HOLST), out of MHS Pembrook Lady (ISH) by Guidam (SF). Breeder: Sinead Brennan, Co Kilkenny. Owner: Susan Magnier. Rider: Cian O’Connor.
Pacino Amiro (ISH) – 2012 gelding by Pacino (BWP), out of Carnone Dancing Queen (ISH) by NC Amiro (AES). Breeder: Simon Scott, Co. Donegal. Owner: Aiden McGrory. Rider: Bertram Allen (IRL).