AFTER two years of no international action at the Dublin Horse Show, five-star competition finally returns to Ireland next week at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) and promises to be a cracker.

Despite a busy summer schedule and the FEI World Championships coming the week before, international riders from around the world are travelling to the Ballsbridge venue, which hosts the final leg the European Division 1 Longines FEI Nations Cup, so it is the last chance saloon for teams to qualify for the final in Barcelona which offers one qualifying slot for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games this year.

It is Michael Blake’s first time at the helm of the team in Dublin. He has named a strong sqaud of world number four Conor Swail, Shane Sweetnam, Cian O’Connor, Max Wachman and Bertram Allen however it is likely now that Allen will be replaced following his call up to the team for the World Championships.

Dublin is an important final leg for Ireland as they have yet to confirm their qualification for Barcelona. Currently in eighth place after three points-scoring rounds, they will want a top five finish here to be confortable, although I expect they will do much better than that and, when looking at the teams that have completed their four rounds, they look to have an odds-on chance of making it.

The home nation have not won since 2015 on home soil and bring fresh horses to Dublin. Conor Swail comes off the back of amazing form with Count Me In, while Shane Sweetnam brings the hugely exciting nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding James Kann Cruz (bred in Galway by Patrick Connolly) who has produced clear rounds in Langely and Rotterdam already this season.

World number four Conor Swail and Count Me In in Aachen \ Tomas Holcbecher

While the exact team horses were not named as we went to press, it is expected O’Connor will ride his Tokyo Olympic mount Kilkenny (ISH, bred by Sinead Brennan) who has fresh legs after light campaigning so far this season. And what a moment for 18-year-old Max Wachman if he gets selected to ride on Friday afternoon with Berlux Z who has been ultra-consistent for the team (see an interview with Max on page 20.)

World number four Conor Swail and Count Me In in Aachen \ Tomas Holcbecher


Speaking to The Irish Field about James Kann Cruz, Sweetnam said: “He is a horse made in Ireland so there is a lot of hype about him coming back jumping in Dublin, it’s exciting. We purchased him in September. I had seen him with Francis [Connors] jumping some National Grands Prix on videos and he looked very impressive. I tried him and loved him and we got him straight away. We spent the back end of last year just getting to know him, building a partnership with him, by January we were rocking and rolling and we haven’t looked back.

“We did the show in Dinard last week and he is in Ireland already. Everything has to stay right between now and Dublin but it is an important day for us Irish riders, we really want to win so we will be doing the best we can for the team.”

Ireland finished fourth in the Sopot leg of the series; they were third in Rotterdam before being unlucky to finish fifth in Hickstead despite an excellent performance.

Also competing for points in Dublin are France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, while Brazil and the USA will also line out. France, The Netherlands and Switzerland have all won a leg of the series already this season and send some of their big guns. World number two Martin Fuchs is coming to Dublin for the first time in his career and is joined by former Olympic champion Steve Guerdat.

The USA have named a strong team which includes two of their silver medal-winning Tokyo Olympic team in Jessica Springsteen and Laura Kraut.

World number eight, Dutchman Harrie Smolders comes to Dublin with his Olympic horse, Bingo du Parc, and Darry Lou, while the French have a strong squad that includes Kevin Staut and Marc Dilasser with Arioto du Gevres, heroes in Hickstead two weeks ago.

It is disappointing that there is no team from Britain here, especially after their big success in 2019 and, after their four points-scoring rounds, they look vulnerable bear the bottom of the table, as do Norway who are bottom.

Daniel Coyle and Oak Grove’s Carlyle are five-star Grand Prix winners already this year \ Tops International Arena

Grand Prix contenders

Shane Breen returns to defend his Grand Prix title next week, won in 2019 with Z7 Ipswich who is being aimed at the class again. Breen has been in top form of late, winning both the Hickstead Derby and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Only eight Irish riders have won the Longines Grand Prix of Dublin, which boosts a prize fund of €350,000. Other Irish winners back to try and get their hands on the trophy again will be Bertram Allen, who won in 2014 with the great Molly Malone V, and Cian O’Connor (2013 with Blue Loyd).

Italy are not part of the Division 1 series this year so there is no Italian team in Dublin but the 2016 Grand Prix winner Lorenzo de Luca is coming back to Ballsbridge. Now working for Britain’s Poden Farms, he was runner-up in the five-star Grand Prix in Valkenswaard last month with Cash Du Plessis.

Olympic champions Sweden did not perform well in the Nations Cup series this season, and look to also miss out on Barcelona qualification. It is a pity the Dublin crowd will not see any of their Olympic heroes as they all compete in Herning this week, but Angelie von Essen will be riding as an individual, as will Mexico’s Federico Fernandez who was part of the Mexican team that scored an historic victory at the venue in 2018.

Team riders aside, a total of 24 Irish show jumpers will ride in Dublin. Among the top ranked is Denis Lynch, Darragh Kenny and Daniel Coyle who will travel straight from Herning after the FEI World Championships. Lynch won the five-star Rolex Grand Prix of Rome in June with Brooklyn Heights, who he will not take to Dublin, but he takes the highly experienced Cristello and Rubens LS La Silla.

Coyle is also a recent five-star Grand Prix winner at CSIO5* Rotterdam with Oak’s Grove Caryle who will be in Dublin. Coyle’s older brother Jordan will travel from the USA, as will Limerick native Paul O’Shea who won a class in 2019. Another USA-based rider who has been in Europe for the summer is Andrew Bourns and he will have high hopes for a good week with the lovely Irish Sport Horse gelding Sea Topblue who was bred by John and James Meade.

Mark McAuley also returns looking for a repeat of 2019 when he was the leading international rider of the show.

Daniel Coyle and Oak Grove’s Carlyle are five-star Grand Prix winners already this year \ Tops International Arena

Niamh McEvoy and Templepatrick Welcome Limmerick, pictured winning the 1.50m Premier Grand Prix at Tattersalls, made their Dublin international debut next week \ Laurence Dunne

Young stars

Ireland is known for their strength and depth at underage level and youngsters are well represented in the internationals. Mikey Pender and Jenny Rankin both punched their ticket as the top two Irish-based riders who competed outside of Ireland in two-star Grands Prix or three-star ranking classes. Pender has also qualified in the young horse division.

Qualifying through the Coolmore/SJI Premier Grand Prix series nationally is 17-year-old Niamh McEvoy who has been on fire this season with Templepatrick Welcome Limmerick. The pair won their first international Grand Prix in Balmoral in May and followed it up when winning the two-star Grand Prix in Mullingar a few weeks later.

They were part of the bronze medal-winning junior team at the FEI European Championships for Juniors and a brilliant campaign in the 1.50m Premier Series, including a win at Tattersalls, saw her crowned the runner-up in the league. She is one to watch in that big Main Arena.

After securing the slot, McEvoy said: “I am totally delighted to get my place in the international classes in Dublin, which was my main aim. I think the mare will be very competitive there.” McEvoy rides some horses for Greg Broderick and has also qualified in the seven and eight-year-old international class.

Niamh McEvoy and Templepatrick Welcome Limmerick \ Laurence Dunne

Also qualifying through the league is Galway’s Tim MacDonagh. It is a first five-star for both and, while Harry Allen has done five-star shows, it is his first time competing in the internationals in Dublin and arrives off the back of winning an individual gold medal at the European Championships for Young Riders with Over Lux. It is going to be a thrilling week, buckle up!