A HUGELY impressive performance in the early hours of this morning (Sunday) from chef d'equipe Michael Blake’s Irish show jumping team of Cian O'Connor, Eoin McMahon, Max Wachman and Andrew Bourns saw them win the four-star Nations Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival for the fourth time in the 21-year history of the competition at the Florida venue.
All 11 teams that lined-out wore yellow and blue arm bands in support of Ukraine during the competition.
Ireland’s win comes on the back of another victory for Michael Blake’s team in the opening FEI Nations Cup of the season at Abu Dhabi back in January.
Ireland were in a share of the lead with Canada at the halfway stage thanks to perfect clear rounds from Clare’s Eoin McMahon with Chakra 9, owned by Beerbaum Stables, Tipperary’s Max Wachman with Berlux Z, owned by Coolmore Showjumping and Galway’s Andrew Bourns with Sea Topblue (ISH), owned by Andrew Bourns. That meant Irish anchor rider, Meath’s Cian O’Connor, didn’t need to jump in the first round with with Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z, owned by Ronnoco Jump Ltd.
Eoin McMahon also left all the fences standing in round two, picking up just a time fault. It was another excellent performance for McMahon, who represented Ireland in last year’s European Championships, and at the Nations cup World Final in Barcelona.
“Coming here, it was my plan to jump Chakra in the Nations Cup, so we planned our weeks up to tonight. She’s been a very good horse for me,” he said of the 12-year-old mare. “Even though she’s 12, she’s not that experienced. She improved a lot from last year to this year. She’s been very consistent since we got here.
“She jumped fantastic in the first round, and she jumped great in the second round as well,” he continued. “I was a bit too slow; that was a rider error. I was very happy that it didn’t cost us tonight. It’s always a real privilege to be able to jump for Ireland. I’m very grateful for Michael selecting me.
Tipperary's Max Wachman and Berlux Z turned in a double clear performance for Team Ireland \ Sportfot
Wachman double clear
Eighteen-year-old Max Wachman then completed an outstanding double clear round to keep the pressure on Canada – one of only five double clears in the competition.
“I’m delighted, and it’s a great feeling to win,” he noted. Wachman has been riding Berlux Z, an 11-year-old gelding only since October. Berlux Z was on the team for France under the saddle of Simon Delestre at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“My horse is a very good horse,” noted Wachman. “He’s been able to bring me to bigger levels, because he’s quite experienced and he’s not green. I’m very grateful to be riding him. It’s special to be on a winning team with [my trainer] Cian. All the lads are great.”
Riding in the third spot for the Irish team, Bourns and Seatop Blue (ISH) were coming off a strong WEF circuit, having won the CSI4* Grand Prix during week three. They recorded just an unlucky four faults at the very last fence in round two.
“I was very happy with him tonight,” said Bourns of the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding by Chacco-Blue. “This is his first Nations Cup. I was a little worried he might come out in the second round and think it was a jump-off. But, after the second or third fence, I realized that I was right on the money with him.
“I’m very grateful, bringing a horse that hasn’t jumped in a Nations Cup before, to be on a team like this and to be given a chance to develop a horse in an atmosphere like this,” continued Bourns. “It really makes a big difference to professionals like me. To watch the likes of Max and Eoin go in and do so well is a very proud night. I think it was a good plan and well executed in the end.”
Anchor rider Cian O’Connor and the 12-year-old mare Cerruti Van Ter Hulst Z had a refusal at fence four under the lights in the second round as O’Connor explained.
“Cerruti has been going quite well. “She jumped double clear in the 1.50m and double clear in the WEF and clear in three-star Grand Prix. I just haven’t showed her the last couple of weeks. I wanted to let her freshen up. That’s always the thing with the schedule here. You don’t want to overjump.
“She just seemed a little more on her toes tonight,” he explained. “She took a serious dislike to the wall as soon as I turned the first time. I felt it, but she dug her heels in. But listen, that’s horses. We’ll regroup and school the wall probably and build her back up. She’ll be back to fight another day.”
Eoin McMahon and Chakra 9 were the pathfinders for Team Ireland \ Sportfot
Canada in second
That left Ireland on a winning score of just five faults over the two rounds, while Canada finished as runners-up on 12 faults. The home team from the USA also finished with 12 faults in a slightly slower time to take third, with Britain fourth, Mexico fifth and Australia sixth.
Blake spoilt for choice
With 38 Irish riders to choose from competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival, Blake sat in an enviable position with a wealth of choices for his team. He chose horses and riders with solid recent results but also team members where horses or riders had less experience.
“I like giving opportunities to people that I think deserve them,” he said. “I have to say, we did our job very, very well tonight, and I’m delighted with the boys. Max is 18 years of age, and it was a phenomenal effort from him. Even though Eoin is not a whole lot older, he’s also a veteran. Andrew has been in the States for quite a while, and we needed his shot. He rode very well. I thought he was a little unlucky to have the last fence down. It would’ve been nice to finish with no pole on the ground, but you know, we still did our job, and we’re very happy. And Cian has always been an amazing, amazing rider for Team Ireland. He has been on so many Nations Cups teams and has pulled us out of a hole so often. I’m very proud of all of my team.”
Galway's Andrew Bourns rode Sea Topblue (ISH) to a clear first round \ Sportfot
Excited for the future
Cian O’Connor, who was on the winning team at the WEF Nations Cup in 2016 and 2017, is excited about the future for his country.
“When you see guys like Eoin and Max and Andrew and how well they’re able to get stuck in and do the job, it’s really bodes well for the future of Irish Show Jumping,” he said. “Michael gives a fantastic chance to all the young people, and he fields from a mixture of experience for the team. It’s very healthy and lets people develop. We’re very fortunate to have that in Ireland.”
Horse Sport Ireland CEO Dennis Duggan added: “Huge congratulations to Michael Blake and his team members on a fantastic victory in the Nations Cup in Florida. To win the first two Nations Cup competitions of the year on different sides of the globe is a phenomenal achievement and a great start to the season. It is also really positive that both winning teams were a mix of youth and experience showing Irish show jumping is in a very strong position at the moment.”
Sea Topblue (ISH) – 2011 gelding by Chacco Blue (MECKL) out of Sea Top Lady (ISH) by Lux Z (HANN). Breeders: James & John Meade, Co. Clare. Owner: Andrew Bourns. Rider: Andrew Bourns (IRL).
The Irish Show Jumping team is sponsored by Devenish and The Underwriting Exchange.
Equiline – Official athlete clothing supplier of Horse Sport Ireland