On Friday evening at Thunderbird Show Park, I chatted with Conor Swail. Naturally, he kicked off his week at the Harvest Celebration CSI4*-W with a victory in the $75,000 CSI4*-W Welcome.
We finished the interview and before parting he said, “I hope to talk to you again tomorrow.”
I’m not sure he enjoys chatting with me quite that much, though he’s always polite and engaging in his conversation. Much more notably, it meant he would have won again. And he did.
“I’m going to start running out of things to write about,” I told him Saturday afternoon as he exited the Thunderbird Jumper Arena as the winner and the runner-up in the $75,000 CSI4*-W tbird Cup with Theo 160 and Vital Chance de la Roque, respectively.
“But it’s a different horse this time,” he said.
That would have been great, had that horse not won on three occasions last month, for which I wrote a total of five stories.
Hoping not to sound like a broken record, it’s worth noting: Yes, Conor Swail really won again. No, I promise he’s not the only one here.
In fact, it just doesn’t seem to matter who is at tbird. Swail has established a remarkable prowess, even with the likes of World No. 13 Kent Farrington (USA), two-time Olympian Tiffany Foster (CAN), top Australian rider Rowan Willis (individually in the top 12 at the 2018 World Equestrian Games), and a long list of others on site this week for the opening leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ North American League. He’s done it across multiple arenas, so it’s not just an affinity for the expansive grass field that is the Fort Grand Prix Arena. And, as he noted, he’s done it with a myriad of horses. This particularly group might just be his best yet.
Swail has won five of the last nine international classes he has jumped at tbird. Remarkably, four of those wins have come with the 9-year-old Theo 160, the other with Vital Chance de la Roque. He has had the ride on both horses for less than a year and is a part-owner of each. He owns Vital Chance de la Roque with Adeline Hecart, while he partnered with members of the Philippaerts family on Theo 160 after the Philippaerts acquired him from the gelding’s breeder, Jenny Abrahamson.
“Now that I have him, there’s quite a few people [that said], ‘I know that horse. I like that horse. I tried to buy that horse.’ So he certainly had a reputation before he came here,” Swail said of Theo 160. “It is very nice that he’s continued to grow with me. He looks like he’s a super competitive, lovely horse.”
Vital Chance de la Roque, or “Vinny,” has won three FEI Grand Prix events since June 20 at Lexington, Tryon and Saugerties. “Theo” jumped his first 1.60m grand prix at tbird’s Summer Fort Classic CSI3* in August. While many of his colleagues traveled abroad over the summer, Swail stayed in North America with the goal of getting to know his group of largely new horses. He placed them calculatedly as the group began to answer his questions and pass the tests presented to them, with flying colors.
“If you look back at our interviews, you know, six weeks ago, I wasn’t sure [if I was going to jump Theo in the grand prix],” Swail said. “Honestly, now I’m feeling way more solid on all of [my horses]. Before, I was wondering how to go, and now my expectation is higher. And obviously if your expectation is higher, you have higher demands, because I know that they’re good enough to be the winner, so I want to make sure that we’re going to try and get there every time we show.”