Young Galway rider Michael Duffy could hardly have hoped for a better debut in the Global Champions League when he represented the mostly-Irish Miami Celtics team, riding Efs Top Contender in the opening round of the season in Mexico City at the weekend.
“To be asked to be on a team was a dream come true, and to come here and win the first event is a great start for the season,” Duffy said, after the team rallied on Saturday to climb from overnight sixth to the top of the standings after Duffy and Denis Lynch (RMF Cadeau de Muze) both played faultless hands when it came to the concluding round crunch.
Duffy’s only regret was an error on Friday’s opening round which cost the team four faults, but it didn’t matter in the end, when he and Lynch posted the only team double-clear in Saturday’s decider while the opposition crumbled. “I pushed too hard into the double. Thankfully, my mistake didn’t cost in the end,” Duffy said.
It’s been a wonderful turnaround for the youngster who a year ago looked to be part of Irish manager Rodrigo Pessoa’s nations cup plans having done well at contests in the UAE, Belgium, and France before his progress was interrupted when prime mount Belcanto Z was sold just days before he was in line for another team appearance at the Italian nations cup in Rome.
It curtailed his involvement for the rest of the season but Pessoa was clear that the door was very much open for a return when the right horse was available.
Last week, the manager named Duffy and Efs Top Contender as part of his five-member squad for the first nations cup qualifier of the season in Slovakia at the end of April.
Duffy is enjoying being back in the limelight and being part of the Global Champions League “This is what we all get out of bed in the morning for,” said Duffy. “This is the level everyone aspires to and these are the best shows in the world, so for me it’s a dream come true. What better stage to show yourself on?”
The next round of the league takes place in Miami, which will no doubt give an extra edge to Miami Celtics’ efforts to maintain their early season lead in the 16-venue series. It’s not certain yet if Duffy will be in the line-up next time out from the team’s squad of five (which, apart from Duffy and Lynch includes Ireland’s Shane Breen and Cameron Hanley as well as American Jessica Springsteen) but the Galway rider is happy to be at the top of the table after this first effort. “Let’s hope we can stay there,” he said.
Overall, the Mexico round was good for teams with Irish members. Darragh Kenny delivered an opening day clear round to help Parish Panthers take second, while Bertram Allen’s Valkenswaard United claimed third.
Shane Sweetnam, the only other Irish rider involved in this round, did what no other league rider at the venue achieved in scoring a double clear on the same mount, in this case Main Road, but faults by other team members meant a 10th-place finish for his Shanghai Swans outfit.
The Cork rider’s effort didn’t go unrewarded as he finished fourth in the individual element of the competition, with Bertram Allen (Gin Chin van het Lindenhof) taking second.
There was no big purse this time around for Cian O’Connor in the Great American Grand Prix on Sunday in Ocala, Florida, but he did manage to net a share of the place money. O’Connor and Clenur were clear in the opening round until the final fence proved a bridge too far and the pairing’s effort saw them finish ninth overall. Paul O’Shea also came away with some cash after finishing 12th.
The 12-week long Winter Equestrian Festival concludes at five-star level this week in Wellington, Florida, with $500,000 on offer in the Rolex Grand Prix.
It’s a quieter weekend in Europe, with no four or five-star shows, but there are a number of three-star fixtures including Arezzo in Italy where Conor Swail (Domino van de Valhoeve), Peter Moloney (d’Atlantique Royale), and Alexander Butler (Theoreme du Desir) scored a respective Irish clean sweep of the top three places in last Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Entries closed at the weekend for the Dressage National Winter Finals to be held at Cavan Equestrian Centre on April 7 and 8. A one-week extension had been allowed for those seeking the qualifying mark due to cancelled events during the bad weather spell.
Yesterday Horse Sport Ireland announced the Irish squad for the Pony Nations Cup in Fontainebleu, France on April 14. Manager Gary Marshall’s squad comprises Francis Derwin (Cul Ban Mistress), Max Foley (Pumkins Pondi), Katie Power (Knockroe Little Mike), Lucy Shanahan (Caliber), and Rhys Williams (Shadow Dancer).
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