It was a victory months in the making.
February last, chef d’equip Michael Blake named the team that would ride for Ireland in the $400,000 CSIO5* Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Canada at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, BC—some four months ahead of the class.
The four combinations to make the cut: Richie Moloney and Carrabis Z, Captain Brian Cournane and Dino, Daniel Coyle and Cita, and Conor Swail and Rubens LS.
“The first thing that I think is important is that they know a long time out that they’re coming here. All these guys knew they were on this team in February,” revealed Blake. “It was going to be their fault if they didn’t win!”
It’s a well established strategy for the Irish chef and one that Swail, anchor rider for the second year in a row at Thunderbird, praised.
“We used to come here as a team of five or six and then you would have to jump on the first day and then you would be assessed and see who would be on the four. For me, it works much better when you know you are going to be on a team. You can prepare much better,” said Swail, who started gearing his mount to peak for Sunday’s class in Wellington, FL this winter.
“[Rubens LS] was third in the 5* Grand Prix Week 12 [of WEF in March]. He got a few weeks break and was double clear in the 3* Invitational up in Kentucky. I went and had one small 1.40m round at Palgrave [Ontario, last month], just a relaxing round. I jumped a few small jumps here [at Thunderbird] on Wednesday, so I was able to plan everything he did up until today.
“That makes a big difference for us because we came here to win this.”
And a commanding victory it was.
Ireland held the lead from start to finish, incurring just two time faults in the first round of the Nations Cup that saw five countries compete—Canada, the United States, Mexico, Ireland and Brazil.
Heading into the second round with an 11-point lead, Coyle, third in the jumping order for the Irish team, sealed victory with a one-fault score. Swail did not have to jump a second time.
The team’s best performance came from veteran combination Moloney and Carrabis Z who posted one of just two double-clear rounds on the Peter Holmes-designed course. Canada’s Tiffany Foster and Victor delivered the other.
“My horse was great,” Moloney said. “He’s been a great servant for me, and he doesn’t owe me anything. But he keeps on giving us these clear rounds and results. I’ve been aiming for this since Florida [in February], and it really worked out. I wasn’t sure about being first to go, but it worked out for me today.”
The Nations Cup victory was Ireland’s second of the week—an Irish team also claimed the leg in Lisbon on Friday—and the third CSIO5* win for an Irish rider at Thunderbird. Swail won Thursday’s $35,500 North West Rubber Cup, while Coyle captured Friday’s $235,000 Longines Grand Prix.
Blake says it’s the fruits of a plan that was put into place two years earlier.
“When I got the job, I decided the best thing we could do was develop as many riders as we could and give as much riders as possible Nations Cup experience,” said the Irish chef.
“Last year, we had 29 riders jump on 20 different teams for us and we had 17 podium finishes out of 20 and obviously the Europeans were a big deal for us. [Ireland won team gold.] This year, so far 25 riders have jumped on a Nations Cup team for us. For us to win two Nations Cups in one weekend that’s showing a bit of depth.”
Canada, hot off back-to-back wins in the first two legs of the series, finished second in the Nations Cup, securing their spot atop the North and Central American and Caribbean division and in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona this fall. The United States, finishing fourth behind Mexico, secured the second qualification position.