SHANE SWEETNAM says his now 14-year-old Chaqui Z could still be a contender for the Irish Olympic team after last Sunday’s four-star Grand Prix runner-up finish at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. “I wouldn’t count him out,” the Cork rider told the Irish Examiner yesterday. “He feels great. Obviously he’s a little bit older now. You wouldn’t think he was 14 the way he jumped. He’s still got more to offer.”
Together they were part of the Irish team which won the European Championships in Sweden in 2017, jumping without a fault in all three rounds. “I have quite a good plan for him that he’s not getting overused. He does a little bit more breeding now as well,” Sweetnam said.
In Sunday’s Grand Prix the pairing took the lead when second-last to go in the jump-off, but Brazil’s Rodrigo Lambre stole it with the last round on Catover.
Sweetnam has a couple of other rides he hopes will impress Irish team manager Michael Blake as the year develops.
“Alejandro is a year older and got a lot of experience last year, and I have Karlin van’t Vennehof. Both of those horses are in great shape.”
The latter is a newer ride with whom he scored a runner-up finish in a Grand Prix in late January in the mare’s first effort at a three-star and her first outing under lights. Two weeks later she earned him seventh in a five- star Grand Prix. “She’s really impressed already this year even though she had very little experience jumping at that level before I got her. She’s really stepped into it, and she’s finding it quite easy, which is a great feeling.”
For Tokyo of course it will be a question of which horses and riders are spot on when the decisions have to be made. “It’s an open book,” Sweetnam says. “Like the riders, form is going to matter. It’s going to be for me the horse that I feel is really delivering the most and getting the job done at the time closer to it. Those three horses are well capable of jumping at the Olympics.”
Sweetnam was not part of the final Irish line-up for Saturday’s Wellington Nations Cup which was a useful experimental outing for the teams concerned since it wasn’t a Nations Cup Final qualifier. As it turned out the Irish put in a decent effort, proving to be the only serious challengers to a rampant US team who had the win wrapped up with a rider in hand. Three of the Irish team contributed one clear round, and the other Billy Twomey, was unlucky not to have notched one on team first-timer Lady Lou.
Having been the first-round discard with 12 faults, the Cork rider and his mount seemed set for a zero score second time out, but the last fence cost them four faults. The Irish clears came from Darragh Kenny when first to go for the team on Go Easy de Muse, and anchor Paul O’Shea, also in round one on Skara Glen’s Chancelloress. David Blake added a third Irish clear in the second round on Keoki.
However it was not enough to stop the Americans for whom rising star Brian Moggre clinched it on MTM Vivre Le Reve with his second clear round of the contest, meaning the US team didn’t need last rider Adrienne Sternlicht to jump a second time. Paul O’Shea’s second effort therefore became the last round of the night, and while it wasn’t going to change the placings, it was a shot at a double-clear for his team newcomer, but a pole down five fences from home denied him.
Earlier that day Darragh Kenny had netted the 1.50m National GP on Important de Muse and the Offaly native has now moved up a place to number 7 on the world rankings, the latest figures to the end of February having been released this week.
Dressage rider Kate Dwyer, who had been outside the top 200 in her discipline’s rankings, has risen to number 184 after her performances In Qatar at the weekend where she scored the biggest success of her career when topping the five-star Grand Prix Special with Snowdon Faberge. Dwyer, who was a member of the Irish team that clinched a Tokyo place last August, scored a personal best 70.043% to claim the victory.
Cathal Daniels retains number 11 in the eventing rankings after winning both the CC13*-S and CC12*-S events in Portugal at the weekend with OLS King Aragon and Shannondale Mari respectively.