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Spectacular win for Cian O’Connor and Taj Mahal in the CSI3* Henders and Hazel Grand Prix at Knokke Hippique

Sunday, 03 July 2022
CSI3* Knokke Hippique 2022

Photo © Sportfot. Cian O’Connor and Taj Mahal won the CSI3* Henders and Hazel Grand Prix at Knokke Hippique. Photo © Sportfot.


Press release from Knokke Hippique



A radiant sun, a lovely sea breeze and sublime sports entertainment; it was a beautiful summer's day at Knokke Hippique. 

A new highlight in the three-week long equestrian experience was on the agenda today: the CSI3* Grand Prix, presented by Henders and Hazel. The competition was fierce but after a nerve-racking jump-off, it was Cian O’Connor who managed to beat them all.  

"The biggest challenge will be for the riders," Grégory Bodo explained before the start of the Henders and Hazel Grand Prix. "They will really need to have their heads in the game because I am presenting them with quite a few technical hurdles." The renowned French course designer is known for his fluent, horse friendly, designs that put the pressure mainly on the riders' shoulders. Today was no exception. The first round proved to be a tough nut to crack for many top riders. Especially the beginning of the course was causing mayhem. Of the 57 competing riders only 8 made it to the jump-off. 

With lots of twists and turns at the start, followed by some longer lines where the horses really could pick up speed, the audience at the Zoute Plage arena was in for a treat. The first three riders in the jump-off, Nina Mallevaey (FRA), Beth Underhill (CAN) and Laura Kraut (USA), all had one rail down. Opting for slightly wider turns but clearing jump after jump, the fourth rider to go, Belgium’s Virginie Thonon, looked to be heading for the biggest win of her career. But no! A stop at the very end of the course! Halfway down the jump-off Kendra Claricia Brinkop (GER) and Nector vd Bisschop (Echo Van T Spieveld x Darco) entered the arena: Sensible turns, jumping big, speeding down to the last lefthand turn… It was the first double clear. After the next rider Max Sebrechts had one down, it was Cian O’Connors turn. With Taj Mahal (Emerald Van'T Ruytershof x Quannan R) taking big strides, they looked out to get Kendra. Success: Double clear and 2 seconds faster. Would the last rider, who was also the fastest competitor in the first round, be able to beat him? No! Titouan Schumacher finished with 12 faults, and the victory went to Ireland!

“I was not expecting a win today. Taj Mahal is still only 9 years old. It is his first 3* Grand Prix and it’s under lights. I am so happy his previous rider Dieter Vermeiren got to see him win here. He made the horse and I was able to take him to the next level: Great teamwork," O'Connor said. 

Dieter Vermeiren was really emotional after Taj Mahal’s (ex Etoile van de Neerheide Z) win: “I cannot describe this feeling. We started out together when we were both young. Now he wins these amazing competitions. We have a great relationship with Cian. They are an amazing combination, especially because instead of wanting to change the horse, he knows and reinforces his strongest assets,” Vermeiren said.

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