“I was going to do what my strengths are. My plan was to be fast [and not] leave the door open,” said Conor Swail (IRL) of his strategy ahead of Saturday’s $228,000 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Sacramento.
You could say Swail slammed that door and rattled its hinges—he and Vital Chance de la Roque won by 12 seconds. The CSI4*-W 1.60m class was a rapid three rider jump-off made quicker when Swail put down the 38.19 second lead, and neither Natalie Dean (USA) nor Sophia Siegel (USA) were able to catch him.
Or, even catch up.
Along the effort to match his dauntless Siegal collected four-faults in 50.02 seconds to finish second with 12-year-old mare A-Girl. Dean saddled into third with 14-year-old mare Chance Ste Hermelle on eight faults in 43.65 seconds after an error at the first jump and the double combination.
“When you go first [in a jump-off of this size], you’re either first, second or third. I’d prefer to be first, and I wanted to try to put it away early,” Swail explained, perhaps in an effort to to deny the guilt of his apparent use of overkill.
The course designed by Olaf Petersen Jr. (GER) wasn’t exactly straightforward, and of the 23-combination field who tried the track only 18-horses finished. Such few clears could be discouraging if two of the top three riders weren’t such young talents, a sign that the standards for the future of show jumping will continue to rise. Dean is 23-years-old and Siegal is only 20.
Sports analyst Catie Staszak predicted just a few days ago that Swail would catch the win at Sacramento, but Dean would be one to watch.
“But year ago, Dean was fourth in Sacramento and finished the season third in the NAL standings as the top ranked U.S. rider… If last year’s numbers are any indication, Dean should be safely in that lineup,” wrote Staszak.
Swail is always vying for the win, but leaving a gap so large just to be “safe” attests to the importance of Sacramento. The show served as the opening leg for the North American League season, and the goal of the World Cup Finals in Omaha is fresh on everyone’s mind. Swail was also defending his title, having won the Sacramento leg last year also with Vital Chance de la Roque.
“Qualifying is more of a goal this year than last year… It’s a great way to start this year. I think I have a couple of very good horses that are capable of doing it,” said Swail, who was last year’s points leader for the North American League.
It is also one of the first big indoor shows of the fall and winter season. It is often a tricky transition for horses that have spent the summer comfortably stretching their legs on the grass over long galloping lines.
“The first indoor show is a bit different for the horses. The jumps come up a little faster. You’ve got to be on your game to do well,” said Swail.
The jumps coming up fast was of Swail’s own making. The Irish rider and world number five opted to cut the rollbacks even shorter than even Petersen had in mind. The ability to ride his own shortened-shortened track is all in the understanding between horse and rider and it appears Swail and Vital Chance are on the same wave length. The pair sports an 61% top ten finish and 50% clear round rate over 1.60m, according to JUMPR App.
Those stats are all the more impressive considering Swail took over the ride relatively recently. In 2020, Vital Chance de la Roque switched the saddle of Frenchman Marc Dilasser to Swail.
“[Vital Chance] has had an incredible year. Every time I ride him, I know he’s going to give me a good shot [to win]. The two of us just seem to have a good partnership,” said Swail.
According to the results, it doesn’t just seem to be a good partnership. It is. And on Saturday it was worth $75,240 of prize money and 20-league points. Siegel will log 17-points herself and Dean takes 15-points.
There are seven World Cup qualifiers still to go, which means there are seven more opportunities for their competition to try and dethrone them. Swail will have to keep his back against the door if he wants to remain at the top. If that means taking another 12 second lead, leave it to the Irishmen to try it.