When world no. 16 Conor Swail (IRL) and Count Me In rode onto the derby field at Desert International Horse Park for the the CSI4* Whittier Trust Grand Prix on Saturday, they were the last of 24 starters and only one pair had gone clear.

It was jump Alan Wade’s 1.55m track clear and force a jump off, or hand the win to USA’s Kaitlin Campbell and Castlefield Cornelius.

“I was quite nervous going in actually because there was one clear,” said Swail. “Nobody had really mastered the course that well. I’m expected to go clear with Crosby so there was enough pressure on me to do well.”

Expected indeed. In four years together, Swail and Count Me In (aka Crosby) have earned over €1.5 million in prize money (Jumpr App), jumped at the FEI World Cup Final, and onto the podium at marquee 5* events in London, Geneva, and Calgary, not to mention top 10 finishes at Dinard and Aachen.

After a crash in the desert last season, however, the Hanoverian gelding had a lapse in confidence. Swail wisely dropped Crosby down in height, jumping primarily 1.45m and 1.50m in 2023 and with great success. They averaged a 79% clear round rate at 1.45m and 50% at 1.50m that year, according to Jumpr App stats. By the end of the season, they moved back up to 1.60m and won the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Las Vegas in November.

“The horse felt super good,” said Swail.

“[Crosby] had a nice win Thursday so we were quite confident going in, but I spoke to Alan Wade before the start of the course and asked him how he felt. He said it was full height and full spec, so I think that showed a little.”

The challenging questions? Everywhere.

“The combination, the oxer vertical-vertical, was causing some trouble in the beginning with the carefulness,” Swail explained. “And the triple-bar caused a lot of trouble off the in-gate. It fell down a lot. The double as well was an ‘off your eye’ to vertical in, oxer out, and it created enough trouble. The jumps fell everywhere; that’s how Alan builds his courses. There were no big dramas, everyone got around safely and he did a great job like he always does.”

Nerves aside, Swail and the 17-year-old gelding (Count Grannus x Sherlock Holmes) did what they have done countless times before and delivered a clear, setting the stage for a two-horse jump off.

Returning for the short course, Campbell kept the pressure on with a conservative clear in 46.84 seconds, but left the door open on the clock. Swail shut it in decisive fashion, stopping the clock at 44.68.

“I had seen Kaitlin and she had a nice round but my horse is so fast that it was just a matter of getting around smoothly and clear,” he said.

“It was a pressure round in that I had to go clear. Kaitlin put it up to me and thankfully, normally I’m used to going flat out and he’s really good at it, so it was kind of strange going three-quarters speed and having to do the same thing. But as always he was just magnificent.”

Campbell was relegated to second. Mathijs Van Asten (NED) took third with Sirocco with four faults in 75.8.

Four star jumping returns to the desert March 12–17.