Michael Blake will be hoping for an improved placing when he takes charge of the Irish showjumping team for his second outing as manager this weekend. His team started brilliantly but dwindled to a sixth-place finish two weeks back in the Nations Cup of America at Deeridge Farms in Wellington, Florida, near to where this second contest is being staged at Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre, also in Wellington.
The Irish boss will be gunning for a repeat of his 2017 coup at this event when, acting as interim manager before the appointment of Rodrigo Pessoa, he saw his team win their second of two early season nations cups. That team comprised Shane Sweetnam, Cian O’Connor, Paul O’Shea and Conor Swail, two of whom have been named in the squad for this weekend’s event. Sweetnam and O’Shea are present again, with the other riders involved being Darragh Kenny, David Blake and Billy Twomey.
Kenny is set to partner Go Easy De Muze for the horse’s first nations cup appearance for over a year. Blake is listed with Keoki for what would be a nations cup debut as a pairing. The last time Keoki appeared on a team was two years ago when ridden to a double-clear by Ireland’s David Simpson in the United Arab Emirates Nations Cup. Florida-based Blake has had the ride since mid-2018. New to the team game is Shane Sweetnam’s mount Deleyn and ditto for Paul O’Shea’s Skara Glen’s Chancelloress.
An experimental squad therefore for Michael Blake who has been specialising in bringing on new combinations for years in his developmental role with in the Irish set-up before taking over the top job just months ago. The contest, which takes place on Saturday night, should see a lot of trial line-outs, being a ‘friendly’ fixture as distinct from a nations cup qualifier, unlike the aforementioned Nations Cup Of America two weeks ago in which Ireland finished only sixth but were up against, among others, USA, Canada and Mexico for whom that was the first qualifier of the year. “We have some new horses to try out with an experienced group of riders and I expect us to be very competitive,” Blake said when naming his five. “It’s a special atmosphere under floodlights which we are looking forward to.”
As mentioned Ireland won this under Blake in 2017, and were second in the intervening two years, to Great Britain in 2018 and to hosts USA last year. In fact the form guide reads 1-1-2-2 over the last four years, Ireland also having won in 2016 under Robert Splaine.
The event is part of the action during Week 8 of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). The past week at the venue saw Capt. Brian Cournane lead a strong Irish challenge when finishing second in the $401,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix. The Kerry rider was one of only two who managed a jump-off clear, but his time on Penelope Cruz was smashed by USA’s McLain Ward who claimed top spot on his back-to-form HH Azur.
The six who made the jump-off included Ireland’s Darragh Kenny and Daniel Coyle. Kenny took fourth with one down in a fast time on Romeo 88, while Coyle finished sixth after eight faults on Legacy.
Cournane netted $80,000 for the runner-up finish on the Irish-bred 12 year-old mare formerly ridden by Darragh Kerins. “I stepped her up to a five-star Grand Prix here a couple of weeks ago and she’d a couple down, made a couple of green mistakes,” he explained. “Tonight she really felt on form and jumped great.”
Also during Week 7 of the WEF Bertram Allen added another win to his Florida tally when taking Friday’s 1.45m class on Lafayette Van Overis.
Back in Europe Denis Lynch and GC Chopin’s Bushi scored a second-place finish in Saturday night’s Gothenburg Trophy, coming closest to matching Germany’s Daniel Deusser and Calisto Blue. The Irish pairing, however, made an early exit in Sunday’s round of the FEI World Cup, but Lynch had already qualified for the final in April.
It was the last round in the Western European qualifying division and the Tipperary rider ended up sixth in the qualifying standings, miles inside the cut. As well as Shane Breen, Lynch will represent Irish interest in Qatar this week, with the first round of the 2020 Global Champions series being staged at Doha.
Irish eventers will be in action in Portugal at the 3-star meeting at Barroca D’Alva which gets underway tomorrow. Cathal Daniels, Padraig McCarthy, Austin O’Connor and Michael Ryan will feature at the first international meeting on the annual eventing calendar and features CCI3*-S and CCI2*-S contests.