MICHAEL Blake’s Irish team rallied in the second round of the five-star FEI Nations Cup in San Juan Capistrano, California, USA, to finish second of the four teams behind a strong American side.
Round one hadn’t exactly gone to plan and the Irish team of Mark Kinsella, Andrew Bourns, David Blake and Conor Swail lay in third place on 16 faults – eight faults behind hosts United States and three behind Mexico in second. However, they added only a time fault in round two to finish on a team total of 17 faults in second place.
Mark Kinsella rode Attache Stables Ltd’s 12-year-old gelding Quality H to eight faults on their debut at this level when first out, before Andrew Bourns guided his own ISH Sea Topblue (Chacco Blue x Lux Z) to a nine fault round. David Blake, riding Pine Hollow Farm’s Claude, and Conor Swail with Mannon Farm’s 10-year-old stallion Nadal Hero & DB, steadied the ship to some degree with four fault rounds.
Second time out, Kinsella finished with 18 faults to be the discard score, before Bourns was clear with the John and James Meade-bred gelding; Blake added a single time fault before Swail showed his experience with a brilliant clear.
“I’m delighted with that,” Michael Blake said afterwards. “I wasn’t too delighted after round one, but that was much more like it after the break and it showed me that we have some excellent young horses for the future.
“Mark gave Quality H a super ride in round one and we did feel that he was going to struggle second time around – it was a huge course in what is a small ring and the time was very tight – but it’s a five-star Nations Cup so it’s the top level.
“Andrew’s horse Sea Topblue has been around for a while now, so we know what to expect from him.
“He didn’t cover himself in glory in round one but he made up for it with a clear second round and it gave us that impetus to put the pressure on the Americans. David had put together an excellent first round with four faults and he was unlucky next time after jumping the water.
“His mount Claude kind of just got the strides wrong and he needed six instead of five coming out of the water, but the clear with just the one-time fault was excellent. He’s only 11 and it was his first five-star Nations Cup so he’ll hopefully be around for a long time to come.
“We all know what Conor can do too and he was super on Nadal Hero & DB – it’s clear that Conor has another emerging star coming through. He really excelled, for a 10-year-old to put that performance in is very exciting and overall I’m delighted to finish second behind that American team.”
The American team of Lillie Keenan (Argan de Beliard), Karl Cook (Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet), Laura Kraut (Dorado) and McLain Ward (Contagious) won on a team score of 12 faults. Ward produced the only double clear of the competition with the 14-year-old gelding that he rode to team silver at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Contagious.
Conor Swail finished fourth in the five-star Grand Prix at the venue. Riding Mannon Farm and Sandy Lupton’s 16-year-old gelding Count Me In, he picked up four faults in the first round.
There were only two clears in the class, and McLain Ward went on to claim victory in what was a superb weekend. He rode Kasper van het Hellehof to the fastest of two clears in 37.42 seconds.
It was an excellent weekend for Swail too, who scored three two-star wins at the venue. The first came in Wednesday’s 1.35m two-phase with Asta Torokvei’s Gamble, and the pair went on to win the following day’s 1.40m speed stakes when Swail also took second place with Mannon Farm’s Vital Chance de la Roque.
His third win came in Friday’s 1.45m when Vital Chance de la Roque was fastest of just two clears.