Ireland lie last in the FEI Top League, six points behind second-last Belgium and eight behind Britain. Couple this with the fact today’s West Sussex fixture is the penultimate to next month’s Dublin finale and you realise that only a Herculean effort, allied with the gods conspiring against our rivals, can stave off possible relegation.
I say possible, because a major shake-up of the league is on the cards next year as a result of the Saudi Arabian sponsorship deal and it is anybody’s guess as to what will transpire.
Splaine, nevertheless, was not in denial yesterday about Ireland’s situation.
“We have to be exceptionally good to put ourselves in with a chance of not being relegated, if that applies, as we don’t know at this stage what the format of the league will be next year.
“Obviously, the danger is that, even if we get good points, our competitors will be strong, as well. If we can finish in the top three, and our nearest rivals are down the line, then we at least will put ourselves in with a chance.
“The reality, though, is that even two top-three finishes may not be enough. I have told the lads that we have to be 100% focused. This show and Dublin will be these riders’ Olympics,” said the Corkman, whose current contract ends post-Games.
The Corkman felt last Friday’s outing in Falsterbo, Sweden, and the nations cup in Rome had defined the Irish season.
“Falsterbo was frustrating, having delivered the best performance of any team in the second round, but being so bad in the first. On top of that, we had three clear rounds, yet finished last, that is unusual, to say the least. I really feel it was a good team and we should have done better.
“We were very unlucky in Rome to lose a rider, Niall Talbot, who fell from his horse. That summed up our season in terms of luck, though I’m not trying to find excuses,” he said.
Splaine has selected Shane Breen (Cos I Can) as his pathfinder today — with Ireland drawn fourth of the eight countries — and the Tipperary man provided some cheer yesterday, winning the opening class and finishing runner-up in the subsequent contest.
Hickstead is home turf for Breen, who opened his account with the 10-year-old Selle Francais mare Ominerale Courcelle, his victory coming at the expense of Clem McMahon on the Lux Z-sired Point Two Elvis. In the Bunn Leisure Trophy, Breen, riding Balloon, was denied a double by France’s Penelope Leprevost on Oscar Des Fontaines.
Also getting the nod for today’s nations cup are Richie Moloney (Ahorn Van De Zuuthoeve), Darragh Kerins (Lisona) and Clem McMahon (Pacino).
Meanwhile, despite losing out to Cian O’Connor as Lynch’s replacement for the Olympics, Shane Sweetnam has acceded to a request that he act as first reserve rider with Amaretto d’Arco.
* Denis Lynch, meanwhile, like Splaine, has refocused and is targeting the cash available in the Global Champions Tour. His eighth place last weekend in Portugal has moved him to second on the GCT leaderboard, though Australian Edwina Tops-Alexander has a sizeable lead. Lynch lines out this weekend in Chantilly, France, alongside Mark McAuley, Jessica Kürten and Olympic-bound Billy Twomey.
lClem McMahon’s participation in Hickstead has allowed Tholm Keane to extend his lead on the Clones rider in the TRM/SJI Premier Series.
Keane rode Warrenstown You 2 to seventh place in Balmoral yesterday, putting the Waterford man on 29 points, eight more than McMahon.
Eddie Moloney’s decisive victory with Macushla yesterday saw him move to third place in the league on 20 points. The top three riders gain access to the international classes at the Discover sIreland Dublin Horse Show.
The Kilkenny rider produced the faster of only two double clears, crossing the finish line five seconds ahead of Vincent Byrne (Graf Red Dawn), with Joan Greene (Biscaya d’Eversem) fastest of the four faulters in the €10,000 class.
It was Moloney’s second GP win at the show, having claimed Tuesday’s TRM National Grand Prix contest on Chatsworth Dan.
Greg Broderick will aim to extend his sizeable lead in the National League when it moves to Kildare International Show on Sunday. His 64 points gives him a 21.8-point advantage over Moloney, with Keane third on 36.
lIreland pony show jumping team manager Tom Slattery last night chose the following to contest today’s European Championships nations cup in Fontainebleau, France: Darragh Ryan, Paraic Kenny, Molly O’Shea and Tom Foley, with Ireland drawn second of 11 nations.
The pony eventers team of Cathal Daniels, Lucy Latta, Gavin Smiddy and Ana O’Brien continue with their dressage today. Kirsty Connell and Susie Berry are competing as individuals.