Another weekend, another $1m show jumping prizepot in the US and Kevin Babington is not without confidence.
Darragh Kenny too, but he was more circumspect yesterday regarding his chances.
The former has opted for the more experienced Mark Q — co-owned with Deirdre Bourns — for Monday’s grand prix, the second leg of the HITS (Horse Shows In The Sun) triple crown, which takes place at Ocala, Florida. Babington is saving the exciting Shorapur for tomorrow week’s $0.5m Rolex Grand Prix down the road at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
“I’m competing, Mark Q, as we have the $500,000 class at Wellington, a five-star show, and I will aim to use Shorapur in that,” said the Tipperary native yesterday.
“Shorapur is probably the better horse. She’s 10 years old, but has a big year ahead of her and they could build the million dollar class very big, so Mark Q gets the nod, as he is a bit more experienced.
“Shorapur was very good in Ocala, jumping double clear in the nations cup and finishing second in the grand prix. She’s just moved up to 1.60mtr level and, overall, she’s consistent and is not fazed by much.
“Mark Q, on the day, could do anything, I’ve jumped some big grands prix on him and he won a 1.45mtr grand prix qualifier at Ocala on nations cup week [last month]. He likes the ground up there.
“He has the ability, it’s just a matter of it all coming together on the day. I’ve had him since he was nine, he’s 14 now, so I know him really well.
“He jumped three HITS shows at Saugerties [New York], and was sixth and eighth, with one fence down each time, and I had a few down last year.
“I went up to watch Ocala last year and it was a very big difficult course. I wouldn’t go there if I didn’t think I had a chance. Shorapur, on paper, would be the better choice to go there, but Mark Q has a shot of doing well. Whether I could win it or not is another thing.”
Babington is scheduling a trip to Europe in the summer, targeting the Furusiyya Nations Cup series with Shorapur and, if impressing, maybe a place on the team for the European Championships, with Ireland banking on achieving qualification for next year’s Olympics.
“I’m hoping to start at Spruce Meadows and then later shows in Europe. Nothing is set in stone yet, but that’s the plan.
“I’m hoping to do some nations cups and to get some mileage under my belt. It depends on how that plays out before the selectors would consider the European Championships. The mare has a bit of proving to do.”
The first of the HITS million-dollar grands prix triple crown took place in Thermal, California, last Sunday, with Tipperary’s Greg Broderick (Going Global) finishing in 11th place after lowering one fence.
Kenny made the trip cross-country from Florida and had eight faults to place 16th, and the Offaly rider will again ride Imothep on Monday.
“I was happy with the horse. He has not done much this year and I’m trying to mind him a little bit, because we have the Europeans and I want him feeling good to be on the team for that.
“Obviously, I’m hoping for a good performance. He’s very rideable and very scopey. He’s very brave and he’s very careful.
“He starts out slower at the start of the year — but I did not want to do too much this year — and he hasn’t got into his stride yet.”
France is to return to Ballindenisk next month hoping to make up for last year’s dramatic FEI Nations Cup loss.
The French were on their way to victory until the penultimate fence — the Avenue Crossing — undid Maxime Livio (Pica D’Or), earning him 20 penalties and handing victory to the British at the Cork fixture.
“It’s great to see the French returning, but we are also keeping our fingers crossed that a couple of other countries will be represented,” said organiser Peter Fell.
“Having three teams in the competition means they get points towards the league.” So far, the event has 70 nominated British entries, double the number of last year.
“We are delighted with the number of nominations from Britain. The event is going from strength to strength and, of course, we plan to give them the usual warm welcome.
“It’s no surprise to see Ollie Townend back — we joke he is our best client — as he is a regular supporter and always brings a large number of horses. Also due are Izzy Taylor, Georgia Strang and Michael Jackson.”
The event will also see an FEI design seminar, presented by John Nicholson — brother of rider Andrew — who is travelling from New Zealand.
“Designers from Africa, the US, Europe and possibly Japan are coming, for the seminar, which is part of FEI Global Education Programme,” said Fell.
The event takes place from April 24-27, with the cross-country on Sunday, April 26.
A national event this Sunday at Ballindenisk has attracted some of Ireland’s best horses and riders for a three-star class. Joseph Murphy has three entries, including his Olympic horse Electric Cruise. Sarah Ennis rides her WEG mount Stellor Rebound, with the likes of Sam Watson (Horseware Bushman), Michael Ryan (Ballylynch Adventure), and European young rider medallist Elizabeth Hayden (Classic Piper) destined to make for a hot contest.
The events starts at 8.30pm, with cross-country at 12.30pm.
Meanwhile, Cork’s Austin O’Connor (Ringwood Mississippi and Balham Houdini) represents Ireland this weekend at the opening of the FEI Nations Cup Eventing season in Fontainebleau, France.
The Connolly Red Mills/HSI Spring Tour returns to Cavan on Sunday, with Liam O’Meara maintaining his lead.
Unfortunately, since ShowjumpingIreland has yet to receive the results from last Saturday’s competition at Portmore, Co Armagh, and Sunday’s class at Ballinamona, Co Waterford, it could not yesterday give the extent of O’Meara’s lead, nor any other details of the leaderboard.
This situation is not unusual as, while the tour began on February 15, the SJI could only display the leaderboard on its website recently citing a delay in getting results.
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