CO DOWN show jumper Conor Swail landed an impressive victory in the three-star $138,600 Sun Air Jets 1.55m Grand Prix at Thermal in California.
Riding the 13-year-old gelding Vital Chance de la Roque, the world number nine was one of 35 athletes to take on the first round course built by Tipperary’s Alan Wade.
Last to go against the clock, just three combinations had produced clear rounds and he knew the target with the talented gelding who has won all round him in the winter season.
The pair broke the beams with 36.53 seconds on the clock, just good enough to claim first place honours ahead of USA’s Karrie Rufer and Mr. Europe who were just fractions slower in 36.72. Canada’s Lisa Carlsen slotted into third place with Livestream 2 (0/0 37.79).
Talking about his tactics against the clock, Swail said: “I tried to have a very high canter to the first fence, so I was able to leave out a stride between fence one and two. I got the seven strides nicely. Then it was a big gallop over to fence three and, again, you’re just running over and trying to not take too much speed off and get a good shot there.
“Then, when we jumped the third fence, we did the rollback to the double. I slowed the canter down a little bit and made sure I didn’t get the back rail going into the double, and a nice one stride. It was a little bit easy in the six strides. I felt that was a better option for me just because the left turn with Vinny is a little more difficult. So I did the easy six strides. We rolled back, had a nice turn and rode up in the seven strides, which is a leave out to the last. I did feel like that was hopefully going to be enough.”
Swail added: “He jumped amazing. I don’t need to keep saying how great he is. If you just read his results, that shows for himself. It was a nice win. We were last to go. The time was very hard to beat. Karrie [Rufer] put up a very fast time. But I did feel if I did what we just explained, I would maybe just make it. So, thankfully, today he had a great round.”
Swail has decided to ditch the bit and spurs with his Vital and his other horse Theo 160. “It works with what I have at the moment. Theo  is very sensitive to my leg and – he’s already running – but too much pressure makes him run faster. Less is better with him; that’s why that works. Vital [Chance de la Roque] is very sharp and also runs so, again, there’s no need to be kicking him any harder because he already runs by himself. That’s an easy enough explanation for those guys,” he commented on the lack of spurs.
In terms of the hackamore, he added: “Vital Chance de la Roque kind of hides a bit and dodges at the end. Whenever I try to balance him a little when I have a bridle, I feel it takes too much energy and scope away. Whereas when I have the hackamore, there’s a little more pressure on the nose. He’s able to jump through the hackamore better. I feel he still has enough power and scope to jump everything that we want to. I think that’s my theory for now.”
Earlier in the week, Swail took the top two placed in Friday’s three-star 1.50m, beating compatriot Nicky Galligan into third place. From a startlist of 32 in the Table A speed class, just four produced a clear rounds.
Swail claimed victory and €10,990 with Team Philipaerts’ 10-year-old gelding Theo 160, and slotted into second place with his Grand Prix winner Vital Chance de la Roque, to earn a further €6,660.
Co Meath’s Galligan and his own 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare Javas Miss Jordan (Luidam x OBOS Quality), who was bred by Judy Murphy, placed third when clear in 63.82.