CERTAINLY, it’s been a good year to date for Ireland. Another World Breeding Federation for Sport Horse (WBFSH) studbook title in eventing rankings while the Irish Sport Horse studbook bounced up to sixth place in the show jumping rankings.

Pacino Amiro and the latest ‘millionaire horse’ James Kann Cruz are now ranked amongst the top-dozen show jumping horses in the world and just last weekend, James Kann Cruz, the sole ISH on Ireland’s victorious silver medal team at the European show jumping championships in Milan, and Shane Sweetnam scored a World Cup qualifier win in Kentucky.

That result coincided with GRS Lady Amaro, another of the top-six Irish Sport Horses in the WBFSH show jumping studbook rankings, and Mark McAuley placing second in the Grand Prix at five-star Lyon.

Four medals, including a clean sweep in the five-year-old final, were brought home from the WBFSH young show jumping horses championships at Lanaken by HHS Ocala (gold), Boleybawn Alvaro and Laurina (silver), plus Ballyshan B F Super Hero (bronze), which all bodes well for the future.

Leah Stack and Laurina winners of the Flexible 5yr old Final Dublin Horse Show 2022 \ jumpinaction.net

Although on the flip side, Irish-breds drew a blank in the medals hunt at the Le Lions d’Angers eventing championship. There was better news at the Pan Am Games, where HSH Blake won individual gold and from the United States Eventing Association’s East Coast young horse championships where another Irish-bred, HSH Afterglow, won the four-year-old title.

One of the young horse championship judges, Peter Gray, made this interesting observation, saying: “Sometimes I think our goal should be looking at top four-star horses because that’s the level of competition for Olympic, Pan Am Games, Nations Cups – they are all four-stars. Five-star horses are freaks of nature, and we’re supposed to give a general impression with the hopes of them being a five-star horse, and we actually saw two or three today,” with him being particularly impressed by HSH Afterglow.

Few horses reach 1.60m or World Cup circuit heights; few event horses become a five-star contender; there were just under 300 horses competing at the seven five-star events around the world in 2023.

HHS Ocala and Michael Pender, five-year-old Lanaken world champions \ FEI Sportfot

How did Irish-bred event horses fare at this level against increasing competition in the UK and US markets from continental-breds?

The evergreen Ballaghmor Class notched up one more Burghley win, plus there were four more top-three places for Irish Sport Horses this season: Ballaghmor Class, (second at Badminton), Rehy DJ (third at Luhmühlen), Cavalier Crystal (third, Burghley) and Cooley Rosalent (third, Maryland).

Limerick-born Colorado Blue, third at Badminton, went on to win at Maryland, giving another Corkman, Austin O’Connor, the biggest win in his career and bridging a 58-year gap since the previous Irish five-star win.

So the Irish Sport Horse is currently holding its own at five-star level with a number of promising successors to Ballaghmor Class’ title. The Paris Olympics are coming up next year, it will be interesting to see how many ISH suffixes are listed amongst the contenders.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent (ISH) won the CCI2*-S at Burgham International Horse Trials. The world number one landed four international classes at the fixture, all on Irish-bred horses \ Rupert Gibson Photography

Sweet success for James Kann Cruz

Irish-bred greys and Corkmen continue to chalk up major wins in North America, with the latest big result courtesy of the Gizmo Partners-owned James Kann Cruz and Shane Sweetnam’s well-deserved World Cup qualifier win in Lexington last weekend.

Not only another great boost for Irish breeding, but a result that has now made James Kann Cruz a ‘millionaire horse’ as that $70,000 win has now boosted the Galway-bred grey’s lifetime earnings to €1,059,204.

It’s an equally well-deserved landmark win for the Connolly family who put their sport horse breeding programme on another level back in the 1990s. We often hear of Irish-bred mares being sold abroad in the preceding decades before then. A couple appear in the sBs studbook; none, of course, in the more closed studbooks such as the Holsteiner Verband, however the largest pool of Irish-bred mares is often found in Switzerland.

And that’s exactly where Patrick Connolly sourced Tell Of Clover, a Clover Hill mare that jumped on three Swiss teams at the European young rider championships with Daniel Bürki. One of the foundation mares at the Connolly Stud Farm (CSF), she produced the Cruising mare CSF Telly Cruz, dam of one James Kann Cruz.

Undoubtedly, those ‘old’ lines of Clover Hill and Cruising retain that element of Irishness in a damline and have been regular sightings in the pedigrees of the top Hippomundo and WBFSH-ranked Irish-breds in 2023. However, the key to the CSF success was crossing these mares with European stallions.

Darco was an earlier choice for the Connolly family. Incidentally, the Darco son Amaretto D’Arco, competed by both Shane and later Katie Dinan, is the sire of another Irish-bred in the headlines last weekend: the Denis Hickey-bred GRS Lady Amaro, runner-up with Mark McAuley in the Longines Grand Prix at Lyon.

As Philip McManus, the Connolly’s vet who heaped praise on their breeding programme in Cummer in a previous article in The Irish Field, pointed out then that breeders have moved on from such retro sires as Darco. We’re now seeing second and even third generation stallion sons of Darco’s successors, such as Cornet Obolensky and Diamant de Semilly. Finding the ‘next big thing’ in performance stallions is a constant quest for breeders and the research and effort that requires was mentioned by Shane Sweetnam.

“With the Irish horse in general in the last five years, I really noticed a big difference of the standard of horse and each year seems to get better and better. The breeders really have studied it and understand it much more now and they’re using the good mares again and are really educated about their stallions, what they should and shouldn’t use,” he told The Irish Field this week.

“You can really see that in the results and I think it’s only going to get better. This year in Dublin, I thought the standard of the five year-olds, six-year-olds and seven/eight year-old was excellent. So I think, it’s only going to get better.”

Watched on at Lexington by his wife Ali and children, Shane was elated by his first World Cup qualifier win, although next April’s final in Riyadh is “not likely for him [James Kann Cruz] but maybe for me, depends on how my other horses are maturing.”

Instead, “Geneva is his next and last target for the year,” as to cap a stellar week, the Corkman and the Kannan grey got their call-up for the Rolex International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) top-10 final at the Swiss show in December, when most of the world’s best-ranked show jumping riders compete for the IJRC title.

Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Amaretto D'Arco

CSF is one of the top sport horse foal consigners in Ireland, any potential James Kann Cruzs down on the farm? “We have a Zirocco Blue filly of James Kann Cruz’s half-sister CSF Ali’s Diamond (Diamant de Semilly) this year, which we have retained and Ali’s Diamond is in foal to Tangelo for next year. We also have her full-sister CSF Ali’s J in foal to All Star and have a Conthargos ET also for next year,” reports Patrick.

In the meantime, the Galway grey continues to do the family proud. “For sure, every single time he jumps,” said Patrick’s son, Shane.

What they said

“James Kann Cruz is obviously a very special horse. What makes him special is he has so much power and talent, but also his brain. And I think that really comes from a big part of it, from the Cruising line.

I had another Cruising horse before - Solerina - and she was super-smart. A little bit opinionated, a bit like this guy, but when I got to the ring they really knew how to perform. I also think his upbringing in Ireland really does stand to him.

Everyone involved really always took care of him and managed him like the star he is, especially Francis Connors and the owners previously and the Connollys obviously played a massive part in them. So, lucky for him, I think he’s had a very good upbringing.”

- Shane Sweetnam

“James Kann Cruz is a horse of a lifetime and a dream come true for us as breeders of show jumpers. It’s unbelievable to watch him last weekend and gives us such a buzz.

All those years watching these 5*classes, hoping to breed a horse for the big days and thankfully James Kann Cruz is doing this.

Hopefully we can breed more like him in the future.”

- Patrick Connolly

By the numbers

19 million euros (€19,711,133) earned by KWPN-registered horses in the Hippomundo show jumping horses rankings so far this year.


- euros won by ISH show jumping horses this year.


- lifetime earnings (€) by millionaire horse James Kann Cruz.


- euros won this year by Ballaghmor Class.


- euros earned by James Kann Cruz for his Geneva Grand Prix third place in 2022.


- Colorado Blue’s paycheque total in 2023.


- horses on the startlists of this year’s five-star events.


- Irish Sport Horse studbook’s current place in the Hippomundo rankings.


- James Kann Cruz’s current place in the Hippomundo rankings (€506,716).


- Pacino Amiro is one place ahead (€747,790).


- top-three places at five-star events in 2023 for Irish Sport Horses.


- top ISH show jumping horses on Hippomundo: Pacino Amiro, James Kann Cruz and Up Too Jacco Blue.


- top-three results at five-star level in 2023 for Ballaghmor Class and Colorado Blue, ranked first and second respectively in Hippomundo’s eventing horses leaderboard.


- both Ballaghmor Class and the ISH eventing studbook’s places on Hippomundo.

Did you know

  • From next year, thoroughbreds will be recognised on Olympic Games start lists and results. Previously, thoroughbreds were listed as “breeding unknown” but in this new collaborative initiative by the European and Mediterranean Horseracing Federation (EMHF), Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the International Stud Book Committee and the World Breeding Federation for Sports Horses (WBFSH).
  • Historically, only studbook codes for WBFSH member studbooks, specifically breeding horses for the three Olympic sports, were included.
  • Highest-placed thoroughbred at five-star level this year? That would be the ex-racehorse Humble Glory (Bernardini - Sharpen, by Shorvog), third at Adelaide with Sophia Landy. Originally named Camon Houdini, the 12-year-old earned a meagre total of $570 on the Australian tracks. Adelaide prize money? €13,595.
  • 2023 Globetrotting Thoroughbred Award? It goes to Just Kidding, entered with New Zealand rider Muzi Pottinger in three five-star events since April: Badminton, Luhmühlen and Pau. The pair’s best result was 19th place at Luhmühlen.
  • Another thoroughbred: Artist (Guillotine) competed at Adelaide and Fair Hill with Monica Spencer (NZ).
  • The magnificent seven

    ADELAIDE (April). Starters: 16.

    Winner: Virgil (Vivant van de Heffinck (BWP) - North Pole (TB) by Distinctly North. Breeder: Michelle Hasibar. Rider: Shane Rose (AUS).

    KENTUCKY (April). Starters: 38.

    Winner: Mai Baum (THÜR). Loredana 2 (HOLST) - Ramira, by Lanthano 17 (HOLST). Breeder: Gunter Gerling. Rider: Tamra Smith (USA).

    BADMINTON (May). Starters: 64. Finishers: 30.

    Winner: Lordships Graffalo (SHB(GB). Grafenstolz (TRAK) - Cornish Queen, by Rock King (AES). Breeder: Lordships Stud, Writtle College. Rider: Ros Canter (GB).

    LUHMÜHLEN (June). Starters: 41.

    Winner: London 52 (HOLST). Landos (HOLST) - Vernante, by Quinar Z (HOLST). Breeder: Ocke Riewerts. Rider: Laura Collett (GB).

    BURGHLEY (September). Starters: 58.

    Winner: Ballaghmor Class (ISH). Courage II (HOLST) - Kilderry Place. Breeder: Noel Hickey. Rider: Oliver Townend (GB).

    MARYLAND (October). Starters: 26.

    Winner: Colorado Blue (SHB(GB). Jaguar Mail (SF) - Rock Me Baby (AES), by Rock King (AES). Breeder: Kate Jarvey, Mellon Stud. Rider: Austin O’Connor (IRL).

    PAU (October). Starters: 55.

    Winner: Izilot DHI (KWPN). Zavall VDL (KWPN) - Zilottie Z (KWPN) by Marlon (KWPN). Breeder: B.S Wichers. Rider: Ros Canter (GB).

    Shane Rose of Australia riding Virgil

    Thoroughbred angle

    Denis Hickey’s view on the role of a thoroughbred dam in modern sport (See Breeders’ 10, page 92) makes interesting reading and leads to the question: what is the role of the thoroughbred now?

    The Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028. In many ways, the sport horse breeding world has moved on at Mach 10 speed since the thoroughbred-bred sired Charisma (Tira Mink) and pure thoroughbred Touch Of Class (Yankee Lad) won individual gold medals in eventing and show jumping for Mark Todd (NZ) and Joe Fargis (USA).

    There are certainly still thoroughbreds competing at five-star level, although the level of thoroughbred blood in this year’s five-star winners was relatively lower than the previous usual ‘norm’ of 75%. In their feature 10 years ago in The Irish Field, the father and son team of Joachim and Michael Jung expressed a preference for this percentage for four-star (now-five-star) horses and for them, a high TB percentage was not so important at lower levels.

    Here’s the TB percentages for this year’s five star winners: Virgil (25.75%), Mai Baum (32.17%), Lordships Graffalo (59.06%), London 52 (52.67%), Ballaghmor Class (21.73%), Colorado Blue (67.84%) and Izilot DHI (38.38%).

    The Australian-bred Virgil by Vivant, now based at Coolballyshan House Stud, matches the liking by several top riders, including Oliver Townend for a continental sire combined with a thoroughbred dam. At just over 25%, Virgil has the lowest TB percentage of the seven winners with Colorado Blue ranking as the highest. Ballaghmor Class is the outlier of the group due to his dam’s unrecorded pedigree but undoubtedly has a higher percentage.

    At Dublin, I asked Bernard le Courtois, breeder of Colorado Blue’s sire Jaguar Mail (80.86% TB) what the role of the thoroughbred stallion was now in France.

    “Nobody uses thoroughbreds for sport horses, they stopped 20 years ago. Twenty or 30 years ago, the National Stud created an index called the BLUP [Best Linear Unbiased Prediction]. All the thoroughbreds are zero, because they are not sport horses and they devise the BLUP of the foal; if the mother was 10 and the sire was thoroughbred, zero so the BLUP of the foal was five. And if you choose Diamant de Semilly or Quidam de Revel, their BLUP was 30. And the breeders decide to stop using the thoroughbred.”

    “It’s a problem because now everybody uses the same stallion in Europe. If you look at the pedigrees of four, five, six-year-old classes, they use all the same stallion: Emerald, Cornet Obolensky, Diamant de Semilly, like the French, like the Dutch, like the Belgians, the Germans, everybody. And for the next generation in 20 years, how do they breed without line breeding or inbreeding if nobody uses the thoroughbred to make an outcross?”

    The use of thoroughbred sires has dropped to as low as 8% in Ireland, which also has a knock-on effect for traditional breeding. There was just one traditional-bred amongst the top-six Irish Sport Horses in the WBFSH rankings: Oughterard Cooley, compared to previous results since 2004.

    Will the role of the thoroughbred stallion in Ireland follow the French example and scenario as mentioned by Bernard le Courtois? Time will soon tell.