Chef d’equipe Michael Blake is not coy about his expectations for the Irish team—only clear rounds will do.
But he may have stumbled on a new strategy on Saturday.
“As you know, Michael is not competitive at all and there’s never any pressure,” deadpanned Irish Olympian Denis Lynch, 47.
“So last night he said, ‘Listen, I need you all in bed by 10 pm.’ Obviously, I’m somewhat a grown man but I thought, Well, okay, fair enough, he’s got a good point. Let’s try to get to bed before 10:00. But on the terms, if we win this tomorrow, [Michael] will have to start drinking. At least one night of it. So we wrote up a contract and everyone signed it.”
That was Friday night in Calgary. On Saturday, they had their chance to execute the pact at Spruce Meadows.
Seven nations contested Leopoldo Palacios’s technical 1.60m track for the CSIO5* BMO Nations Cup at the iconic venue. Canada was the greatest threat, by Blake’s estimation.
Represented by Erynn Ballard with Gahkir, Amy Millar on Truman and Tiffany Foster with Figor, they had three quarters of their Herning 2022 squad plus Olympic veteran Mario Deslauriers and Emerson in the stirrups. And they made it be known.
Ballard and Millar both delivered clears while Foster left all the poles in place but picked up four time faults. A strong start in round one.
The Irish came out even stronger. Despite the elimination of Conor Swail and Calciet EB Z after falling on course, the team finished round 1 on a single fault with clears from Denis Lynch (Brooklyn Heights), Bertram Allen (Pacino Amiro) and a time fault from Daniel Coyle (Legacy).
Heading into the second round, it was a three-horse race with Germany on six faults and the remaining four nations trailing on double digit scores: Britain on 25 faults, Belgium on 31, and USA on 33. Sweden ended on 34 and did not advance.
In round two, Canada’s hold on silver slipped, adding eight faults to their score, while Germany rallied with three clears from Hans-Dieter Dreher (Elysium), Kendra Claricia Brinkop (In Time), and Richard Vogel (Cepano Baloubet).
It came down to the final rider in the ring. With Swail sitting out the second round, all the scores would count for Ireland. A rail from Lynch pushed the team total up to five, followed by a clear from Coyle. When Allen entered the ring, last to go, the Irish had a one point lead and no margin for error.
“I had great confidence in my horse,” said Allen. “He was jumping very good already in the first round and then the warm up for the second one was even better. So I got great confidence in that and I also trusted that I could do it.”
And they did, delivering the only double clear on the day to clinch the victory for Ireland.
For Blake, it was a dream realized—”I’ve been dreaming of winning here since I was seven,” he said after—and, for the team, a moment of redemption.
“Three horse in the team today,” said Lynch, “were part of the World Championships team last year for Ireland, which were I think one time fault away—”
“Seven hundredths away,” corrected Blake.
“of getting a bronze medal,” continued Lynch. “So, we have very experienced horses, very experienced riders. As Bertram was going into gates, I didn’t see how we couldn’t win, just the confidence we had and I had in him.”
As for the bet: “Obviously I’m going to have to have an imbibing of some type tonight,” smile Blake.