IRISH eyes were certainly smiling in Florida over the weekend, when Irish riders secured the top three places in the highlight of the first of four five-star weeks at the Winter Equestrian Festival at Wellington, the $385,000 Fidelity Investments® CSI5* Grand Prix.

After nearly two years without a five-star Grand Prix victory, Offaly’s Darragh Kenny rode Amsterdam 27 into the top spot during ‘Saturday Night Lights’ at the Florida venue.

A total of 40 combinations started out around French course designer Gregory Bodo’s first-round track, with only six of them managing to keep all the fences intact within the time allowed. These included three Irishmen, namely Kenny, Meath’s Cian O’Connor riding Maurice, and Derry’s Jordan Coyle on board For Gold.

Bodo, who has been tipped as the builder for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris this summer, set an equally challenging jump-off, with the Irish riders the only three to jump clear again second time out.

Coyle and 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding, For Gold (For Fashion x S-Heralda), owned by Falkirk Farm, jumped clear in 39.69 seconds to secure a place on the podium. O’Connor shaved a fraction off Coyle’s time, riding 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, Maurice (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve), owned by Pat Crean, to a clear round in 39.36 seconds.

Kenny and Amsterdam 27, a 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Catoki x Acord II), that he owns together with Vlock Show Stables, LLC, were out for the win and took 0.7 seconds off O’Connor’s time to finish in 38.66 seconds.

Kent Farrington was last to go for the USA; he managed to steer Greya round the course even faster than Kenny, but not without knocking a pole, to incur four faults and leave him in fourth place at the finish.

This meant that Kenny won the class, with O’Connor second and Coyle third – what a result for Ireland!

It was an All-Irish podium for the five-star Grand Prix at Wellington International, with Darragh Kenny in first, Cian O’Connor in second and Jordan Coyle in third. They are pictured with Peter Petrone, Vice President, Financial Consultant, Fidelity investments \ Sportfot

“It’s a great result for all the Irish riders,” admitted Kenny, 36. “I think we work very hard when we’re here, and we try very hard to win always. Tonight really showed that we can do it when we need to.

“He’s an absolutely incredible horse; he’s the most talented animal I’ve ever sat on,” said Kenny of Amsterdam 27, the former Pan-American Games mount of Canada’s Mario Delauriers and Olympic mount of Teddy Vlock, who is Kenny’s student and owns the horse. “He’s quality, scopey, smart and has the ability to win anything. I just have to stay out of his way and let him do his thing.”

Cian O’Connor and Maurice on their way to winning second place in the $385,000 Fidelity Investments CSI5* Grand Prix at Wellington International \ Sportfot

In the ribbons

Week five of the Winter Equestrian Festival got underway last Wednesday, February 7th, and Jordan Coyle didn’t miss an opportunity, winning the $1,000 FEI five-star 1.40m class with Chaccolino, while Cian O’Connor and Kilkenny took sixth place.

Paul O’Shea steered Squirt Gun into seventh place in the $32,000 FEI five-star 1.45m class, while Shane Sweetnam was on form in the $6,000 1.40m Open Jumper class, securing the runner-up spot with Unique MB and ninth place with Fun de L’Oiseliere.

The $6,000 1.40m Open Jumper saw Ireland’s Robert Blanchette on Carnlea Premier Balou take the win, while Lorcan Gallagher took sixth place in the Six-year-old Young Jumper class with Diablo Rouge Z.

Thursday started well for the Irish, with a seventh place for Tom Wachman and Cathalina S in the $6,000 FEI two-star 1.45m class. This was followed up in the $116,000 FEI five-star WEF round five class with a third place for Darragh Kenny on Eddy Blue and a fourth for Cian O’Connor on Kilkenny.

Friday saw another seventh place finish for Tom Wachman, this time riding Obora’s Laura in the $32,000 FEI two-star 1.45m class, while Simon McCarthy on Dibajo O.H. Z placed fourth in the $2,000 1.30m Open Jumper. Senan Hayes was joint first in the day’s Five-year-old Young Jumper class riding Rocket Na, with Conor O’Regan on Sabine DR eighth in the Six-year-old Young Jumper.

Sunday brought more Irish success, as Nicky Galligan on VDL Likita van de Leeuwerk were runners-up in the $62,500 FEI two-star Grand Prix, with Darragh Kerins on Lissino a close third.

Sweetnam and Irandole Du Flot were second in the $62,500 FEI five-star 1.50m class, jumping clear in the jump-off in 38.26 seconds - just 0.14 seconds behind Ben Maher’s (GBR) time of 38.12 with Point Break. Sweetnam also placed sixth in the class with James Kann Cruz, with Paul O’Shea eighth aboard Squirt Gun.

Jordan Coyle and For Gold on their way to winning third place in the $385,000 Fidelity Investments CSI5* Grand Prix at Wellington International \ Sportfot