IRELAND won the three-star Longines EEF Nations Cup at the 100th edition of Lisbon CSIO in Portugal last Friday night in brilliant style with two riders making their senior debut.

Taylor Vard acted as chef d’equipe for Michael Blake was in charge of the team at the five-star in Rome, and he selected Richard Howley, Jessica Burke, Kevin Gallagher and Jenny Rankin as his four combinations to take on the task. Both Burke, who is based in England, and Thurles-based Gallagher were making their first appearance on the senior Nations Cup team.

The track built by Portuguese chef de piste Bernardo Costa Cabral was fluid and allowed the horses to keep moving forward, although also having a number of technical distances that required particular attention such as the line with the double just after the water jump that proved to be tricky.

At the end of two tough rounds of jumping, Ireland finished on a total of four faults to take victory ahead of France who led at the halfway point. “It’s been great as always! The hospitality here is fantastic and it was very exciting to be here for the venue’s centenary. Winning a Nations Cup is always great,” commented a delighted Taylor Vard.

With plenty of experience on teams under his belt, Yorkshire-based Richard Howley was the pathfinder with the 11-year-old gelding Consulent de Prelet Z (Consulent Z x Fuego du Prelet) and he got the team off to the perfect start with a clear round.

Galway’s Jessica Burke was next to go with Liam Nicholas’ nine-year-old mare Namamia (Fantomas De Muze x Berlin) and she made a dream debut to the level with a foot-perfect clear.

Sligo’s Kevin Gallagher was next to take it on with the sole Irish Sport Horse of the team, the 13-year-old gelding Ballypatrick Flamenco (Je T’Aime Flamenco x Cruising), who was bred by Dr Noel Cawley and owned by Greg Broderick, who 25-year-old Gallagher rides for. The pair jumped a beautiful round, just clipping the front bar of the oxer at fence 10 for four faults.

Jenny Rankin was the anchor and has experience of being on winning teams in the past. She rode Vanessa Mannix’s 11-year-old mare Carmela Z to another four-fault round, just a foot in the water keeping her from a clear round.

That left Ireland in second place at the half way stage on four faults, just behind France who were sitting on zero. However, France had to add eight faults from the second round to their score, and a flawless second round from Ireland saw them finish on four and on the top step of the podium.

Second round

Howley completed a double clear – one of only four to do so; Burke added eight faults to be the discard score, while Gallagher produced a perfect clear. Second last to go, the pressure was on Jenny Rankin as she knew she needed a clear to keep the pressure on France, and the Malahide-based rider duly delivered in style.

When Frenchman Olivier Perreau entered a ring, a clear round would mean a jump-off with Ireland, but he finished with eight faults to hand Ireland a clear cut win. Spain finished third on 16 faults.

Delighted with his double clear, Howley commented: “It’s obviously a fantastic feeling to jump a clear round in a Nations Cup for your country and your team. I am delighted we were able to get it done tonight. It’s always easier if you have a nice horse and makes it easier to get a double clear!” (See photo page 95).

Of her debut, Burke said: “I made mistakes in the second round, but I am delighted with my horse so perhaps I just wanted to put more pressure on the others!”

Also thrilled to make his first senior start and jump a clear, Gallagher added: “This is one of the first times my horse had jumped on grass and under lights and he proved he was unbelievable in the second round!”

Rankin added: “This was my first time here and I was delighted to jump a clear to see the team win. It was a team effort all right!”