Nobody would describe Cian O’Connor as taciturn, but even by his standards his approach when interviewed yesterday was akin to a jump-off.
It was a mile a minute, as he told of Capt Michael Kelly quitting the army to take up arms at O’Connor’s Meath base, the purchase of an exciting new horse, his plans for a first visit to the Global Champions Tour final, followed by a 12-week stint at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida.
Kelly is joining O’Connor at Karlswood to help him develop a major element of his business: Finding suitable horses for clients and providing them with the expertise to be competitive.
Which is why O’Connor is in Canada this weekend, mentoring Nikki Walker, whose grandfather Frank Stronach is owner of Good Luck, the number one horse of the Olympic bronze medalist.
“I’m helping Nikki to prepare for next week’s Canadian championships, which comes a week prior to the World Cup show in Toronto. She will be competing with Cooper. The two of them had good placings at Gijon and Arezzo this year, but the championships take place indoors, so we are putting in the work to ensure they are fully prepared, as they will be up against some of the best.”
It was no surprise to hear that O’Connor holds Kelly in high regard.
“He’s been a close friend of mine for a long time. He’s a great guy. His role at Karlswood will be to assist me with the coaching of clients, sourcing horses, and helping to expand the business.
“We have three clients from North America at present and, with the addition of Michael to the team, I will be in a position to take on more. He is trustworthy, dedicated and a bit like me in that he’s a workaholic, plus, he’s very genuine and a good coach.
“Sourcing horses for clients is a big part of our business, but I like to think that it’s the after-sales service that sets us apart: We coach and plan clients’ careers, it’s a complete package.
“Also, bringing Michael on board will allow me to concentrate more on my riding goals,” said O’Connor, adding that Ross Mulholland will continue to be the stable rider for Karlswood, noting that “Michael will not be competing at this stage and they both get on very well with each other”.
O’Connor has also strengthened his team with the addition of the nine-year-old stallion Sam du Challois.
“He looks very good. He is typical of some of the horses I have had success with, including Rancorrado and K Club Lady, in that he has a lot of national experience, but little international exposure, though he has the talent to make it on the big stage.
“I bought him in partnership with his breeder and owner, with the idea of marketing him for sale later next year. He will be used as back up for Good Luck, while increasing his value, plus he will help me in my plan to be in the top 30 in the world rankings by April.
“I’m still looking for another horse, or two, to help me achieve this, either to ride and compete for an owner or to buy myself.”
O’Connor will fly from Canada to the Longines Global Champions Tour final in Doha in a fortnight and expects Good Luck to be as expressive as ever.
“Good Luck is in good order. He was particularly good at the Furusiyya Series final in Barcelona, but has had a break since and is fresh. I will also bring Super Sox as my second horse. It will be my first time at the final, so I’m excited.
“A week later the horses are off to Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival, as stallions must spend 35 days in quarantine in Wellington. I see it as their winter break.
“More than likely, I’ll use Good Luck for only four grands prix in Florida, as my main focus will be on getting to the Rio Olympics.”
It’s an interesting comment, as O’Connor is as aware as anyone that a place at the Olympics has yet to be guaranteed. He is awaiting a date at the Court of Arbitration for Sport for an appeal by himself and Horse Sport Ireland following the debacle at the European Championships, where a member of the ground party impeded his round, costing Ireland a team place at the Olympics.
Should the appeal be unsuccessful, there will be one or possibly two individual places available to Ireland, but O’Connnor was not prepared to address this, as he is firmly of the belief that Ireland will have a team at the Games and is deserving of it.
“Obviously, we have to go through the appeal process, but that doesn’t stop me from planning, you just never know what will happen. Anyway, I think we will win the case. The ultimate goal is to have an Irish team at Rio.”
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