Sweetnam wintering well in Florida

Shane Sweetnam scored a third place in yesterday’s feature class on day two of the $4m FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, having notched up back-to-back victories on Wednesday.

Riding Siri, he finished over half a second behind Brazilian Rodrigo Pessoa on HH Let’s Fly in the $30,000 jump-off class.

“I’ve had her about a year,” he said of Siri, an 11-year-old Swedish warmblood mare. “She was quite green when I got her, but she has come along in the last six months. She has a lot of talent and now I think she is ready to be competitive.”

The US-based Corkman opened his account with a win in the $8,000 G&C Farm 1.45m speed class aboard Sweet Oak Farm’s Irish-bred Solerina, then took the top honours in the $6,000 Spy Coast Farm 1.40m jump-off class aboard Spy Coast Farm, LLC’s Eregast Van’t Kiezelhof.

“It is a great way to start WEF,” said Sweetnam. “Last year I started off a little bit slow and then in the second half I had a lot of seconds, so it is nice to get a couple of wins early.”

Sweetnam owns Solerina — a Cruising mare out of a Diamond Lad dam — in partnership with Spy Coast Farm and has only had her since last summer. He said she was bred by Noel Cawley, ridden by Cian O’Connor as a four-year-old and competed on the US national grand prix circuit by Conor O’Regan.

“Conor wanted a younger horse, so we did a deal. She has good breeding and the plan is for Spy Coast to breed from her after jumping.

“She is very, very careful. She is a little bit of a character, as in chestnut mare character, but she has a fighting spirit. She has had a lot of good results already.”

Last weekend, a single error placed Sweetnam seventh in the inaugural $100,000 Trump Invitational. The Kanturk man was on board Spy Coast Farm’s nine-year-old Diktator Van De Boslandhoeve, the Belgian warmblood stallion he believes has the capacity to be as good as his top ride, Amareto D’Arco.

*Outgoing ShowjumpingIreland chairman Christy Murphy yesterday said a provisional date of January 29 has been decided for the first meeting of the new national executive.

The Leinster Region is to meet next Monday to decide their nominations for the national executive, while Ulster is to hold its AGM on January 22.

Murphy pointed out that “you must allow seven days to elapse after the last regional meeting”, adding that January 29 “is dependent on it being convenient for everybody”.

He also said the appointment prior to Christmas of Philip Purcell as office manager is already paying dividends.

“He has operated as an accountant with the SJI for three years and now he has stepped up to the plate. Having someone in charge means there is better direction for the organisation.”

Meanwhile, Connacht region chairman Liam Murphy said he is still giving consideration to putting his name forward for the position of SJI chairman.

Murphy cited the fact Leinster and Ulster have yet to nominate representatives for the executive.

“I haven’t given it final consideration. It is better to allow each region to complete their business first,” said Murphy. “There is a real job of work to be done. There is a real challenge for the association and it is incumbent on everybody involved in the association to put their heads together and do what is right for the association,” said Murphy, who lost out to Christy Murphy in a bid for the SJI chairman’s post in 2011.

He highlighted the worry surrounding insurance for the SJI, which has seen its premium almost quadruple as a result of two pending claims.

“The insurance issue is a major concern and we have to come to some decisions as to how we are going to sustain ourselves in terms of the insurance. We are in a delicate position.”

Murphy’s comments come a week after Munster chairman Tony Hurley revealed he was considering seeking another stint as SJI chairman.

Murphy is chairman of the SJI juniors and young riders committee and he pointed out that Irish riders had won the team bronze medal at the European Children on Horses Championships in France in 2010 and followed with the gold medal in 2011, while the junior riders had won gold last year.

“It augurs well for the future in terms of the talent we have on this small island,” said Murphy. “The training that SJI has introduced is producing really good riders. The reps in our regions do outstanding work and it is those facets of our association that should be highlighted and applauded.”

*Eventing couple Michael and Trish Ryan are looking to develop the coaching element of their business and are looking at opportunities in South Africa, Dubai and the United States.

The Bandon, Co Cork-based duo have already imparted their know-how in Zimbabwe, returning before Christmas from a 10-day trip that saw them coach the national eventing team.

“We arranged it through a local rider here in Cork, David Boult, whose sister lives in Zimbabwe,” said Michael. “The sport is in its infancy there, but it has 100 members in the association. They compete at pre-novice level, but they use some quality ex-racehorses; very old-fashioned thoroughbreds.

“In terms of the sport, they have a very good foundation, they just need to up it by facing into higher grade competitions.”

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