CORKMAN Shane Sweetnam had a sweet victory on Saturday night, as he won the $226,000 Longines FEI World Cup in Lexington (USA) with his exceptional Irish-bred horse, James Kann Cruz to take the top prize of $74,580. This was Sweetnam’s first ever World Cup win.

Out of 28 starters, the pair were one of 11 to jump clear in the first round over fellow Irishman Alan Wade’s course to make it into the jump-off, held in the Alltech Arena in the Kentucky Horse Park – adjacent to Sweetnam’s Lexington summer residence, making the win all the more meaningful.

“To win this class is a big deal. For me, it was always one of the ones I wanted to win,” Sweetnam said afterwards.

The first round highlighted just how talented a jumper 10-year-old James Kann Cruz is, as he cleared the 1.60m course with plenty of room to spare. They were the fourth combination to enter the arena for the jump-off; the horse’s scope could have added to their time, but it allowed Sweetnam to take some risks, leaving out strides and riding an impressive turnback to the combination towards the end of the course. The excitement wasn’t over, as James Kann Cruz slipped, leaving less than a stride to judge the fence, but still he cleared it. They crossed the line in a time of 33.41 seconds, which could not be beaten.

Last year’s winner Daniel Bluman (ISR) and Gemma W were runners-up, putting Bluman on the podium for the third year in a row in the National Horse Show’s feature class. Third place went to Devin Ryan (USA) with Eddie Blue, repeating their placing from the previous week in Washington, which puts him in the lead in the North American League standings with 30 points. Sweetnam sits in second with 28 points, with Alise Oken (USA) in third with 25 points.

“I felt that there were a lot of fast riders, good riders behind me. Honestly, when I came out of the ring, I was thinking I still might not have done enough,” Sweetnam said. “I definitely wasn’t sure I had the win, but I really did as much as I could in the ring.

“We slipped a little bit going into the double, and he had to show how amazing he was. That wasn’t planned, but it just shows how talented he is.”

Practice makes perfect

James Kann Cruz, bred by Patrick Connolly in Co Galway and owned by Gizmo Partners LLC, is a gelding by Kannan, out of CSF Telly Cruz by Cruising. He continues to improve and was on the silver medal-winning Irish team at the 2023 European Championships in Italy. Negotiating his way round jump-offs swiftly has been part of his development.

“Practice makes perfect. I’d say if you watch my rounds now compared to what they were this time last year, the jump-offs are a lot faster,” Sweetnam said. “Yes, he does spend a lot of time in the air, but obviously, that’s a help. He’s a very smart horse. The more he does it, the smarter he gets... He’s looking for the next jump, which he hadn’t really this time last year. It’s still a work in progress.

“I still think there’s more room there for us to go to another level,” he added.

Sweetnam’s family were in attendance at the show; he walked the course with his son Collin and his wife Ali and daughters Olivia and Lucy were also at the event. All of them are involved in the sport as athletes or coaches.

“All of us are very keen,” Sweetnam said. “It’s great to have that, because we have that together. When there’s success or when there’s ups and downs, we’re there together, and we learn from them, and we keep moving forward.”

Irish Horse Board Director General, Alison Corbally said: “Congratulations to Shane Sweetnam and the Connolly family from Co Galway, breeders of CSF James Kann Cruz (ISH) on another outstanding win. A World Cup victory is always a huge achievement and for an Irish rider on an Irish-bred horse to win a World Cup is extra special.”

Andrew Bourns from Co Galway riding another Irish-bred horse, Sea Topblue (ISH), also made it into the jump-off. They had two fences down against the clock to leave them in 10th place at the finish. The 12-year-old gelding is by Chacco Blue (MECKL), out of Sea Top Lady (ISH) by Lux Z (HANN) and was bred by James and John Meade from Co. Clare. He is owned by QBS Equestrian and Andrew Bourns.

Conor Swail on Calciet EB Z; Daniel Coyle on Legacy and Lorcan Gallagher on Copycat also competed for Ireland, but had unfortunate faults in the first round.

Swail succeeds

Meanwhile, there was further Irish success in Friday night’s $38,700 International Speed Stake at Lexington’s four-star World Cup show, when Co Down’s Conor Swail secured an impressive win.

Conor Swail and Casturano, pictured winning the $146,000 Bainbridge Companies CSI3* Grand Prix, have won the $38,700 International Spped Stake at Lexington \ Sportfot

Swail rode the 10-year-old gelding Casturano (Castelan x Canturo) with speed and precision to finish more than two seconds ahead of second placed Daniel Bluman (ISR) with Corbie V.V. Andrew Bourns and Disa DM 42 placed seventh.

“It was a quite twisty, turny course and yeah, all the numbers came up good for me and all the turns; the horse was really with me,” Swail commented after his victory.

Swail had placed fifth with Calciet EB Z in Thursday’s $38,700 1.45m international Two-Phase class, while Lorcan Gallagher and Copycat placed sixth in the $77,300 Welcome Stake class the same day.