THE Irish show jumping team are lying in sixth place after the first round of the FEI European Championships in Rotterdam this evening.
In the Olympic qualification battle, they are currently occupying the third and final slot at this stage, while Darragh Kenny has put himself in strong contention individually in 11th place.
It was a tough opening round, over which just 24 of the starting 70 combinations managed to navigate a clear round on Louis Konickx's course.
Germany laid down the marker with all four riders jumping magnificent clear rounds and they hold the lead with a team total of 4.22. France, who are also seeking Olympic qualification, lie in second place on a score of 5.39, ahead of Sweden in third (6.81).
Great Britain are in fourth place (9.41) and second of the teams looking for the ticket to Tokyo. Switzerland (9.83) are just ahead of Ireland in fifth place, with that all-important target well within Ireland’s grasp.
Each of the Irish riders faulted once on course. Championship debutante Peter Moloney was second into the arena and first for Ireland with Team Harmony’s 11-year-old stallion Chianti’s Champion, and they knocked the first part of the double at 12a on the last line, in what was an otherwise excellent round. That fence was to fall many more times throughout the day.
With four seconds to add, Moloney finished on a time of 79.76 and, when converted to penalities, lies in 31st place overnight on a score of 4.75.
Speaking afterwards, the Waterford native said: “I was picked first to go because my horse wouldn’t be the fastest of the four. I was really happy with him. I think he was faster than I thought he would be, just really unlucky to be honest."
On the pressure to perform on his championship debut, he added: “There is not so much pressure on me, today anyway. I’m not expected to be the fastest. Look, I’m not under pressure, I have a really good horse and that makes the job a lot easier I think.
“It’s my first championship – I didn’t do ponies or juniors or young riders, so it’s a bit daunting to go in but there is good lads around us, we have a really strong team and they are all very good to me.
“Chanti’s Champion is a really big scopey jumper, the bigger the better for him. Hopefully the next two days will be suited to him,” Moloney added.
Moloney’s mentor and Ireland’s most capped show jumper Cian O’Connor was next to go aboard Ronnoco Jump Ltd’s PSG Final.
The nine-year-old gelding was taking another step up in his career today and was unlucky to knock the first part of the double at fence eight, the second of three doubles on the course. O’Connor’s final time of 82.77 sees him in 44th place after the first round on a score of 6.26.
Shane Sweetnam was third to go for Ireland, also with a relatively new mount in Alejandro. The 10-year-old gelding was purchased in January by Sweetnam, alongside the Gilbertson family and Spy Coast Farm and is making his championship debut this week.
The double on the last line also caught them out and they finished in 77.91 seconds. Sweetnam is second best of the Irish in 22nd place individually (3.83).
“Ideally I wouldn’t like to have to go so fast the first day but that’s the way the championship is. He is still learning but he is an extremely talented horse and that’s why he is here. He will get better each day so hopefully we can go on and really deliver this week. It would be nice if we could have a bit of comfort at the end,” Sweetnam said afterwards.
Darragh Kenny put the fire back in the squad when posting the quickest round of the day overall (69.82), but unfortunately, with 12a on the floor, had to add four seconds to finish on 73.82.
He lies in 11th place overall (1.78 penalties) and well within a shout of individual honours, however, he is concentrating on the team before thinking about individual honours.
“I knew we needed a quick round. My horse is naturally very quick and I went as fast as I could. He was jumping brilliant, I just ended up a little bit deeper than I would have liked at part A of the double and he had a light rub at it, but he jumped fantastic,” Kenny said after his round.
“All the horses were super today so I think we have a good chance, we just need to put it all together.
“I just hope we qualify. With this horse, I am hoping I can be here the whole week, but the most important thing is getting through Friday, qualify and hopefully win a medal!”
Defending 2017 European champion Peder Fredricson of Sweden threw caution to the wind aboard the wonderful H&M All In to win today’s opening competition in a time of 70.25 seconds, ahead of Austria’s Max Kuhner (Chardonnay 79) and Britain’s Ben Maher (Explosion W) in third place.
Tomorrow’s second round gets underway at 10am (9am Irish time). All 15 teams go forward to tomorrow, after which only the top 10 teams will progress to Friday's final to decide the European team medals and Olympic places.