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The Irish bring in the golden squad to win the CSIO5* 1.60m Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen 2024

Thursday, 04 July 2024
CHIO Aachen 2024

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. As the only team to finish on a score of zero, it was Ireland that took the victory in Thursday night’s CSIO5* 1.60m Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen 2024. All photos © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ.


Text © World of Showjumping



As the only team to finish on a score of zero, it was Ireland that took the victory in Thursday night’s CSIO5* 1.60m Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen 2024. "This has been on my bucket list," the Irish chef d'equipe Michael Blake said. "This has been my full bucket list, actually. This is such a great bunch of lads. It is brilliant to be here and I am so lucky to work with this team." 

After the first round, five of the ten teams at start were sitting on a score of zero: Sweden – who really impressed with all their four horse-and-rider combinations delivering convincing clear rounds – Ireland, Mexico, Great Britain and the Netherlands. France, Belgium and Germany were sitting 6th, 7th and 8th with four faults each, while the USA and last year’s winners Switzerland were 9th and 10th on a score of eight faults, which left them out of round two.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. Double clear for Ireland: Bertram Allen and Pacino Amiro.

No less than 24 of the 40 horse-and-rider combinations delivered clears in the first round, over the track which as per tradition was built by Frank Rothenberger (GER). Despite an open water at no. 4, followed by a triple combination with a vertical-vertical-oxer at no. 5abc, a tricky stars-and-stripes plank at no. 6, a huge triple bar with round water trays below at no. 10, followed by a tall Rolex upright at no. 11 and a Mercedes-Benz oxer to close it all off at no. 12, there were only light faults that spread out and most of the horses and riders made it all look easy. 

For the second round, the sun set, and the floodlights came on at Soers. But while the temperature dropped as the sun disappeared, the competition was heating up between the eight teams proceeding through. And staying coolest under the rising pressure was Michael Blake’s quartet consisting of Denis Lynch and Vistogrand (Fantaland x Mr. Visto), Bertram Allen and Pacino Amiro (Pacino x NC Amiro), Shane Sweetnam and James Kann Cruz (Kannan x Cruising), as well as Cian O’Connor and Fancy de Kergane (Berdenn de Kergane x Cor de Hus) – who simply were in a league of their own as they added nothing to their score as the second round progressed.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. Shane Sweetnam and James Kann Cruz helped secure the win for Ireland when jumping a double clear round.

And while it started well for Great Britain with another clear round from Ben Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly (Cap Kennedy x L’Arc de Triomphe), the Brits suddenly looked vulnerable when Harry Charles recorded twelve faults aboard Casquo Blue (Chacco-Blue x Carthago Z). Meanwhile, Mexico’s Nicolas Pizarro and the lovely Pia Contra (Conthargos x Chacco-Blue) had to see nine faults added to their score after a clear the first time out, but when Andres Azcarraga delivered a double clear on Contendros 2 (Contendro I x Drosselklang II) the Mexicans were still very much kept in the game. 

Sweden, who had looked so strong in round one, had two agonising mistakes on the very last Mercedes-Benz oxer in round two. First, Henrik von Eckermann’s Iliana (Cardento x Gentleman) took the front rail down, before Amanda Landeblad’s For Killy (Otangelo x For Pleasure) clipped the back rail on the same oxer – dropping the Swedes down on the result list. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. Mexico's Eugenio Garza Perez and Contago love it in Aachen and with a double clear round they helped their team to a historical second place in the Nations Cup.

Meanwhile, the Irish were moving full steam ahead. After recording four faults on the first oxer in round one, Denis Lynch came back strong in round two to deliver a clear as pathfinder for the Irish and when Allen posted his second clear of the competition the pressure was mounting on Great Britain, Mexico and Sweden. The Dutch on the other hand had already dropped out of contention, with twelve faults for Willem Greve and eight for Leopold van Asten. 

As third in line for Great Britain, Robert Whitaker and Vermento (Argento x Skippy 12) had a costly rail on 3a down which meant the Brits could finish on a best possible score of four if their anchor Scott Brash would go clear. That was also the math for Mexico, who saw Federico Fernandez and Romeo (Lando x Cheers Cassini) improve from round one to finish on only four faults in round two – now it was all down to their last rider Eugenio Garza Perez who could secure them a spot on the podium if he would deliver a clear.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. A double clear from Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson helped Great Britain finish third.

With Great Britain, Mexico and Sweden now on a best possible score of four, Ireland put all their faith in Shane Sweetnam and the powerhouse James Kann Cruz who with a clear round could secure the victory for Ireland even before the pathfinders had started to enter the ring. And Sweetnam and his wonderful scopey grey gelding did not disappoint; with their second clear round of the competition, they sealed the deal for the Irish team – much to the delight of their teammates and chef d’equipe Michael Blake. 

And while the Irish started their celebrations behind the scenes, Great Britain, Mexico and Sweden were left to battle it out for second and third. With a clear round from Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson (Cooper van de Heffinck x Irco Mena), the Brits kept the pressure on – finishing on a score of four. But Mexico answered right back as the stylish Eugenio Garza Perez posted his second clear of the day on Contago (Cornet Obolensky x Cassini II), pushing ahead of the Brits with a faster total time – causing the Mexican fans to go wild on the side-lines. Despite a lovely double clear from Petronella Andersson and Opaline de W&S (Etoulon x Zirocco Blue VDL), Sweden was kept off the podium this time around when anchors Peder Fredricson and Alcapone des Carmille (Diamant de Semilly x Heartbreaker) recorded eight faults – dropping the Swedes down to fifth behind Belgium who climbed up to fourth in round two. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. "It is brilliant to be here and I am so lucky to work with this team," said an emotional Michael Blake after the Irish win.

"This is what dreams are made of," Ireland's Shane Sweetnam said after securing the win for the Irish – their last in Aachen having been in 2010. "I was not on the team in 2010, so I have not won here before, even though we have been close two times with the team. So we have always been knocking on the door and we felt we had a strong chance; this team here is the same we had in Gothenburg when we won the [European team] gold medal and we were fighting from the start." 

"I remember that night in 2010," Cian O'Connor added. "We thought this show would be fitting for this group of horses, it was great and everyone played their part. I think everyone is really professional, they know what they have to do. Aachen doesn’t get old; I jumped on the team here the first time in 2001 and I still have the same adrenaline." 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. "We will never forget this moment in our lives," Federico Fernandez said on behalf of the whole Mexican team that finished second.

Despite the Irish victory, it was the second-placed Mexican team that was possibly the happiest of them all. "We are literally speechless," Federico Fernandez said on behalf of the whole team. "We are so grateful, first of all with the organizers and the FEI to allow us to compete at the most important show in the world. We come here, it is magic all the way around. When you enter into this arena, it is like goosebumps, it is traditional and it has been a dream for all of us here. We are so lucky to put together such a great team, we are lucky in Mexico to have Eugenio and his great horse, jumping clear rounds for us and Andres who flew from Calgary to join us, and Nico – we were trying to catch the Irish, but we couldn’t, congratulations to them and thank you to the Brits that allowed us to be second. It has just been magic and it is historical and we will never forget this moment in our lives." 


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