Ireland eye Wellington hat-trick

Ireland’s show jumpers could be in line for a notable treble as they tackle the Wellington Nations Cup this weekend during week eight of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida.

Ireland eye Wellington hat-trick

The four-star contest takes place on Saturday evening local time and after claiming the event two years in a row, there is belief in the Irish camp that a three-timer is within their grasp.

“It’s certainly the plan,” said Cian O’Connor, who resumes his Florida campaign after a visit to Spain where he was overseeing students during the Sunshine Tour at Vejer de la Frontera.

Should the Meath rider manage to conjure a double-clear on Saturday he will have notched a rather special hat-trick of his own. He jumped two faultless rounds in the 2016 victory with Sam Du Challois, and again in last year’s contest with Seringat.

This time around he will partner Clenur, and given the way the pairing have been performing of late there is no reason why another flawless contribution is not attainable.

“He’s an incredible horse,” O’Connor said yesterday. “His results and his improvement over the (Florida) circuit have been outstanding. I’m very fortunate to have been given the ride on him by his German owner Armin Himmelreich.”

Although it’s little more than two months since he took over the reins from Germany’s Marco Kutscher, he feels Clenur will figure prominently in his plans for the coming year.

“I’m confident that he will do some very good things throughout the season both in nations cups and on the Global Champions Tour,” O’Connor said.

In the past month the combination jumped two Grand Prix rounds in Florida with just a time fault in each, and two nations cup rounds at Ocala, also in Florida, with a single pole down in the first round and a zero-fault performance in the second.

Ireland finished in a share of third with the USA in that event, and O’Connor says Ireland are determined to do better at Wellington.

“While Wellington is not part of the Longines FEI League we still really want to win here,” he said. “Many Irish come to Wellington to compete and coach students and we have owners here who support us. It’s a great showcase for us as a team and to promote Ireland.”

Of the six-member squad announced by development manager Michael Blake for this year’s event, O’Connor and Shane Sweetnam were both part of the two previous wins, while Paul O’Shea contributed a double-clear in the 2016 success.

Another squad member, Richie Moloney, produced a crucial second-round clear two years ago. Conor Swail, who was part of both of the previous victories, is not in the current squad.

Robert Splaine managed the 2016 victory in the final year of his tenure as Ireland boss, while the 2017 win was overseen by Michael Blake just ahead of the appointment of Rodrigo Pessoa as team manager.

Last year Blake was on his own, so to speak, but this time around Pessoa is on hand, being based in Wellington during the winter season. The Brazilian claimed a win of his own with Chaganus at the weekend, topping the two-star Grand Prix.

In Europe this week the Sunshine Tour at Vejer de la Frontera moves up to four-star level with Bertram Allen, Trevor Breen, Greg Broderick and Trevor Coyle providing the Irish interest.

Meanwhile, Kate Dwyer (Snowdon Faberge) and Dane Rawlins (Espoire) will be at the four-star dressage meeting in Lier, Belgium.

At home, John Floody and HTS Blackrock were victorious in round three of the Connolly’s Red Mills Spring Tour at Broadmeadow Equestrian Centre in Meath at the weekend, outpacing Paul Carberry on Brandonview First Edition in a jump-off that saw a host of riders produce second clears.

Killossery in North Dublin stages the fourth round on Sunday.

The final of the Gain Equine Nutrition CT league takes place in Tipperary at Gurteen College, also on Sunday.

Irish squad for Wellington Nations Cup (Saturday): Darragh Kenny (Team de Coquerie); Denis Lynch (RMF Cadeau de Muze); Richie Moloney (Carrabis Z); Cian O’Connor (Clenur); Paul O’Shea (Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu); Shane Sweetnam (Indra van de Oude Heihoef).

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