The 2016 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) hosted its $150,000 Nations Cup CSIO 4* on Friday evening at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) with an exciting win for the squad from Ireland. Teams representing seven different countries competed, with Ireland earning the victory over USA in second and Colombia third. It was the first time that Ireland has won a Nations' Cup in Wellington since 2005.
Friday's $150,000 Nations' Cup consisted of two rounds shown over a course set by USA's Steve Stephens and Ken Krome. Teams of four represented the nations of Canada, USA, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, France, and Colombia. After the first round, each team dropped their highest score. In the second round, the top six teams returned in order of highest to lowest total faults. The winner was determined by the lowest total of each team's top three riders from each round.
Team Ireland, led by Chef d'Equipe Robert Splaine, included Conor Swail aboard Ariel and Susan Grange's Martha Louise, Shane Sweetnam riding The Blue Buckle Group's Buckle Up, Richie Moloney with Equinimity LLC's Carrabis Z, and Cian O'Connor aboard Ronnoco Jump Ltd. and Jean-Claude Jobin's Sam du Challois.
In round one, Swail, Sweetnam, and O'Connor all completed clear rounds, and Moloney's score of 12 was dropped, leaving the team tied with USA on a score of zero.
Swail had an unfortunate four faults in his second round with Martha Louise. Sweetnam and Buckle Up also had one down in round two. Moloney with Carrabis Z, and O'Connor aboard Sam du Challois, each jumped clear in round two to secure their team's victory. One score of four was dropped, leaving the team on a four-fault total overall.
Settling for second place was the home team from USA, made up of Georgina Bloomberg riding Gotham Enterprizes' Lilli, Audrey Coulter aboard Copernicus Stables' Capital Colnardo, Laura Kraut riding Old Willow Farms' Zeremonie, and Beezie Madden on Abigail Wexner's Simon, led by Chef d'Equipe Robert Ridland.
The team had a perfect score of zero in round one, as Bloomberg, Coulter, and Kraut all completed clear rounds. Madden did not need to jump in round one since each team had a dropped score.
Heading into round two, the team was tied for the lead with Ireland, but things did not go as planned. Bloomberg and Lilli returned with an eight fault score in round two. Coulter with Capital Colnardo and Kraut aboard Zeremonie each jumped double clear rounds. Madden and Simon then returned, but Simon was not himself, and after the gelding had trouble with the first three fences on course, Madden pulled up and retired. The unfortunate turn of events made her round the drop score and left the team to finish on eight faults as their overall total.
Following the Irish win, Chef d'Equipe Robert Splaine was very proud of his team and was not at all surprised to see the four horses and riders lead the night's round of honor.
"We have four very professional lads, and they are used to the winner's [podium]. They have been there before, and they will be there again," Splaine stated. "They worked hard for this Cup. They delivered fantastic results. Every combination jumped a clear round for us tonight, and we had one double clear. That for me, as Chef d'Equipe, is very significant, that every rider had a zero score tonight.
"Well done to the lads, and thank you to the Wellington show organizers for inviting us back," Splaine continued. "It is always an honor to jump the Nations' Cup. I have been coming here a long time, and it is a great pleasure to at last win a Nations' Cup here. A special word of thanks to the owners - without them we could not be here and it is fantastic to be on the podium. Wellington is a great home to many Irish, and we appreciate the hospitality. The USA gave us a good run for our money. I felt us slipping a little bit in the second round, but we fought back and pulled it off."
Cian O'Connor was the only Irish rider to jump double clear rounds as the anchor for his team. He had great confidence in his mount, Sam du Challois, a ten-year-old Selle Francais stallion (Quaprice Boimargot Quincy x Adam IV) that jumped one Nations' Cup before.
"I was very happy with my horse, Sam. He was really good," O'Connor stated. "It is his second time jumping this level. He jumped on the team in Ocala and he performed well there too, jumping well in the second round. There is added pressure here; there are a lot of Irish here, and this is a Nations' Cup that we want to do well at, so it obviously put the pressure on us."
O'Connor spoke further about his mount, noting, "The horse is quite a regular horse. It is not difficult to be smooth on him. In the first round, he was a bit strong and I had a lot of pressure on because he has not jumped under the lights, but he was very nice to ride the second time. I did not really think about it too much; I just rode each fence individually. I tried to stay out a little to the last fence because the first time I got a little bit close to it. Then I got a really good stride to it the second time, and he made a very confident and comfortable jump. It did not feel hard for the horse; it felt easy."
Swail's mount for the evening was Martha Louise, a 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare (Maloubet de Pleville 1039 x Wolfgang) that he has had a lot of success with, but had never jumped in a Nations' Cup previously.
"I thought it was a great win for us tonight," Swail said of the evening. "We were coming in with a little bit of confidence. We thought we had a nice chance to win and some nice horses. My horse has had a good bit of experience. She had never jumped a Nations' Cup before, but she has been around, and she has some very good wins. Her record speaks for itself, so I was confident enough that she could do a good job, and I thought she jumped extremely well tonight. I was a little unlucky to have the wall down in the second round, but I was very pleased with how she went and how the night progressed obviously."
Sweetnam was also jumping his mount, Buckle Up, in the pair's first Nations' Cup together and the ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Colandro x Caretino) handled himself very well.
"Obviously it was a great night for the Irish," Sweetnam remarked on their win. "We thought we had a chance. We were definitely hungry for it. I think the way the class went, we started off really strong and I think the MVP has to go to Richie, because we looked like we were dead and buried if he did not go clear. When he went clear, that put us right back into action because you know Cian is going to go clear anyway. I think it is my ninth year in a row jumping the Nations' Cup here, and I have never won it. I have been second five times, so it is a very special night for me."
Speaking of Buckle Up, Sweetnam detailed, "It is a very new horse to me. He is a great horse. He has been jumping clear since I got him, and he already won one class. I was very lucky; I had to really push to organize to buy this horse, to organize a syndicate. Lisa Lourie, the Gilbertsons, the Devries, and Paul Tracy really helped me out to do this, and now they are getting the rewards, and it is a great horse.
"This was my first real class under the lights with him, but the horse had a bit of experience before I got him, and he was getting to this level," Sweetnam added. "He is a real fighter, and every time I go in the ring I can feel that, and I think it is only going to get better."
Although Moloney and Carrabis Z had the drop score of 12 in round one, the pair rallied and came back strong with a critical clear trip in round two. The 13-year-old Zangersheide stallion (Canabis Z x Grannusso) settled down for his second round and gave Moloney a great ride.
"My first round was not very good and I thank the lads - they did a great job in the first round and the second round," Moloney stated. "My horse was a little bit more rideable after being around once, and I am glad to have jumped a clear round.
"I have very good owners, and I am very glad to have a nice team of horses," Moloney added. "It is very important to do well tonight for my owners and the big Irish crowd that is here for us. It is one we look forward to, and it is great to win."
Despite the disappointing finish for USA, Robert Ridland and his team felt good about their efforts and ended the night mostly concerned about Simon's well-being. "We felt good coming in, and we felt really good after the first round," Ridland stated. "We had a good night. Georgina started us right off with a clean and we got two double cleans after that. It was fabulous. It is a tough way to end, but Simon did not feel real comfortable at the end of his school and we are guessing he is going to be fine. That is show jumping; it's sport. We really had control of the class, but it is not over until it's over. We had a wonderful team tonight, and we knew we had a good chance, and it showed.
"This is our home Nations' Cup, and darn those Irish; they spoiled our party," Ridland joked. "We are a little down because of the way it ended. We can't say we are overjoyed, but we can say we are very pleased with a really incredible effort out there. We left everything on the table and our hats are off."
Bloomberg spoke of her night, stating, "Lilli felt really good. She has been jumping well down here, and she had last week off. She was nice and fresh for the first round. The second round, I think she got a little relaxed and took it for granted a little bit. I had to fight for it more in the second round, but I know the mare, and I should have fought a little more. She tends to lose energy, and I need to remember for next time to go in there and try harder."
Kraut was very pleased with her mount, Zeremonie, who was jumping in her first Nations' Cup ever and completed two clear rounds for Team USA. "I was really happy with my horse tonight," Kraut stated. "It was her first time doing anything like this. She has hardly jumped at night and she has never done two rounds, so I think it was an experiment to use her this week. I think Robert just wanted to see; he has always liked her. I am really happy with how she performed. She was a little nervous in the first round, but she jumped a really nice second round. It was great fun tonight, and we hope Simon is okay. That is the most important thing."
Speaking to the level of competition Friday night, Kraut noted, "I think the level was very high tonight. Canada fielded a very good team, obviously Ireland did, Mexico was good, and Colombia. It was very close actually. From the first round to the second round, nobody could really rest easy. It is nice with only seven teams. It was all quality, and the course was very good. They did a nice job with it tonight. It was tough, but it was not too difficult. For some of the younger horses, it was good experience."
Audrey Coulter also jumped double clear for Team USA and was extremely happy with her third Nations' Cup appearance and her first time jumping Capital Colnardo in a team event. "I was really happy with how my horse jumped," Coulter said of her mount. "He is a really special horse, and this was our first time in a Nations' Cup. I have been on teams before, but did not qualify for the second round, so this was the first time that I had the chance to do the second round, and to jump double clear was really special. I was a little nervous in the first round, and he was really careful and sticky, and then the next round I took a breath and he jumped even better."
Finally, Madden spoke of her unusual night with Simon and her decision to pull up in her round with a win on the line. "Obviously I was happy my teammates all jumped clear the first round," Madden acknowledged. "Simon started out jumping beautifully in the warm-up, and then my last few jumps did not feel that great, but it is hard to say there was anything really wrong with him. Clearly when I jumped the first fence, it was not like he normally does, and he really never does what he did at the third jump. Then when I landed, I put my leg on him and he almost broke to the trot, and he never does that. You could not really see that there was anything wrong with him, but we will see."
Colombia finished third in the class for the first time, with team riders Daniel Bluman aboard Conconcreto Sancha LS, Mark Bluman riding Stransky's Mission Farms' Uitteraard, Fernando Cardenas riding Quincy Car, and Roberto Teran aboard ARK Partners'' Woklahoma. The team, led by Chef d'Equipe Marcel Delestre, finished on a total of 16 faults with eight in each round as Teran and Woklahoma anchored both rounds with clear efforts.
Mexico placed fourth with their overall score of 17. Brazil finished fifth on a score of 20. Team Canada earned sixth place with a score of 25, and France placed seventh on a score of 29.
Also showing on Friday, the $6,000 Illustrated Properties 1.40m Speed Challenge was held in a California split with wins for Georgina Bloomberg (USA) and Gotham Enterprizes' South Street in Section A and Lillie Keenan (USA) aboard Chansonette Farms' Balance in Section B. A $10,000 Speed Stake was also held in the afternoon with a win for Katie Dinan (USA) and Grant Road Partners' Bijou de Balou.
Source: Press release from Equestrian Sport Productions News // Photo © Sportfot.
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