Irish off to flier in Top League

EQUESTRIAN: By John Tynan

The Corkman and Amaretto Darco were the pathfinders on the team contesting the opening leg of the FEI Nations Cup Top League in La Baule and he was delighted to eventually savour victory after coming close a number of times.

“It’s my first senior nations cup win and I feel fantastic. It’s great to get a good start. It gives confidence for the rest of the series and particularly for achieving Olympic qualification at the European Championships in Madrid in September.

“My horse was amazing in both rounds. I’ve been on a few teams with Darco and placed a number of times and he always does well,” said the US-based Kanturk rider.

Sweetnam gave the Irish quartet a promising start when jumping clear at the expense of a single time fault. Four faults apiece from fellow Corkman Billy Twomey and Romanov, and Cian O'Connor, riding Larkhill Cruiser, kept the momentum up, but a clear from Cameron Hanley and Southwind VDL provided further impetus to leave Ireland in equal second place at the halfway stage.

The second round proved dramatic, as shadows caused by the bright sun spooked a number of horses on other teams, but the Irish continued to shine, with Sweetnam highlighting O’Connor’s performance with Larkhill Cruiser, the gelding belying the fact it was his first nations cup outing.

“After I started with four and then Billy did the same, we knew we were in contention.

“We just needed a clear round and Cian produced that for us. Then we needed a few things to go right for us. Belgium’s Jos Lansink was last to go and if he jumped clear or four faults we would have finished second, but, thankfully, he obliged for us and finished on eight faults,” said Sweetnam.

This saw Ireland run out winners by two faults, finishing on 13 to Belgium’s 15, with Germany a further fault behind in third.

Manager Robert Splaine praised his team, but stressed that Olympic qualification in the European Championships — in which Ireland must finish in the top three of those countries not already qualified — remains the main goal.

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