Richard Howley rises to the occasion

Ireland’s show jumping manager Rodrigo Pessoa was understandably disappointed after last Friday’s seventh-place finish in the five-star Nations Cup at St Gallen in Switzerland, even though it was one of the dispensable ones in his calendar.

Richard Howley rises to the occasion

None of the team did particularly badly, but there were no clear rounds — the first time that’s happened under his watch. “Today was a tough day but this happens in sport,” he said. “We had some good rounds but just couldn’t get that clear. We will take the positives from this, learn from our mistakes and move on.”

One of the team, Richard Howley, moved on quite nicely just two days later in the Grand Prix at the Swiss venue. Riding his Nations Cup mount Chinook, the Sligo rider qualified for the jump-off and took the lead when fourth to go with a stunning round in a time that eight riders coming after him could not match. Only last-to-jump Bertram Allen denied Howley the biggest win of his career by getting Hector van d’Abdijhoeve home intact almost a second faster. Still, second place in such an event speaks volumes about Howley and Chinook’s emergence on the big stage. “It’s been an unbelievable few weeks,” he said afterwards. “It’s very difficult for me to compete at these five-star shows unless I am part of the Irish team. I’m delighted to finish second in only my second-ever five-star Grand Prix.”

It shows how things have moved apace with the experience-building policy that’s been in place since Horse Sport Ireland’s new High Performance Committee, under Gerry Mullins, took the reins ahead of the Al Ain nations cup in February, at which stand-in manager Cameron Hanley gave five-star team outings to Michael Duffy (Belcanto Z) and Paul Kennedy (Cartown Danger Mouse), both of whom jumped a clear. After Pessoa took over as manager in March, Duffy and Kennedy have appeared twice on the four occasions the new boss has been in charge, while Howley and Mark McAuley have also had two outings.

As well as the experienced, though still only 22, Bertram Allen, who won the above-mentioned contest, another established nations cup performer Cian O’Connor was on form when returning from injury in some style at Wiesbaden on Monday when he claimed fourth in the four-star Grand Prix with his top horse, Good Luck. Ironically, O’Connor would have made the podium in the event but for the fact that American Lillie Keenan, whom he coaches, guided Super Sox into third.

Not escaping the Irish manager’s notice will be Derry rider Daniel Coyle, who delivered a double-clear with Cita in Ireland’s guest appearance at the four-star nations cup at Langley, Canada at the weekend, where the Michael Blake-managed outfit finished third of five teams. Coyle and Cita went on to take third in Sunday’s Grand Prix in which Conor Swail came second with Flower and Andrew Bourns placed fourth on CHS Inception. American Margie Goldstein-Engle won the event with Royce, denying the Irish a clean sweep with a time that was too fast for them to catch. Coyle also won Saturday’s main event, the tBird classic on Simba de la Roque, another of the horses he rides for the Canadian-based Lothlorien Farm operation.

Pessoa will have been pleased to see so many good showings in the space of just one weekend, but he still faces the not straightforward task of converting all these individual performances into the team element of the sport.

Mullingar’s two-star meeting concluded on Bank Holiday Monday with the Grand Prix, won by Clem McMahon whose early jump-off clear with Aldaluck in 42.62 proved decisive. “You’d never be overconfident in this game but I know he’s a good horse”, said the winner, no stranger himself to nations cups and a member of the 2012 Aga Khan-winning team.

The Global Champions Tour moves to Cannes this weekend with Irish riders Denis Lynch, Darragh Kenny and Michael Kearins due at the French Riviera location. There will be a strong Irish presence in Poland for the five-star meeting at Sopot. Included is a Division 2 nations cup qualifier at which Ireland will participate as guests. Bertram Allen, Cian O’Connor, Billy Twomey, Alexander Butler and Capt. Geoff Curran are among the riders involved.

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