Monday, June 17, 2024

Irish Eventing team bag the Millstreet Nations Cup in real style

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The Agria Irish Eventing team pulled off a stupendous comeback to secure a famous home victory at the four-star FEI Connolly’s Red Mills Nations Cup at Millstreet at the weekend.

It was a brilliant start to the FEI Nations Cup series for Dag Albert’s side, with Horse Sport Ireland’s High Performance Director of senior eventing rewarded for his decision to select a youthful but hungry unit.

Jennifer Kuehnle made her senior Nations Cup debut on the Ireland team that finished third at the Cork venue 12 months ago and the Laois pilot posted the quickest cross-country clear on Polly Blue Eyes, which she owns with her father Hans, to provide the foundation for a triumphant return.

There was further cause for celebration when Sam Watson secured top spot in the Noel C Duggan Engineering four-star-L class with the Irish Sport Horse he owns along with his wife Hannah, Ballyneety Rocketman, bred in Co Limerick by James Hickey.

Top billing goes to the Nations Cup winners however, with Kuehnle joined by Dubliner Ian Cassells on the Gerry and Fiona Leahy-owed Millridge Atlantis (ISH), bred in Kilkenny by Sean O’Loughlin, Patrick Whelan on the Seamus Carew-owned-and-bred Altitu (ISH), and Robbie Kearns, with Ballyvillane OBOS (ISH), owned by Richard Ames and bred by Tim Gleeson.

Lying in fifth after the dressage on Thursday and Friday, the quartet navigated the jumping and cross-country with just a further 2.8 faults to vault the field.

Kuehnle, Whelan and Cassells posted crucial clear rounds in yesterday’s jumping to move Ireland to third, with overnight leaders Australia dropping to fourth and New Zealand on top going into this morning’s cross-country.

Once again, the Irish flourished, and while Cassells registered 2.4 time faults, Whelan and Kuehnle zipped around without a blemish to cement a memorable victory with an aggregate of 110.2 faults, 2.5 ahead of USA, with Australia just another half-fault further back in third.

“It’s been a good weekend for sure,” said Albert today. “I knew they were good jumpers, all of them. Very good jockeys. We were behind after the dressage but I was hopeful if we could keep the mistakes away we could move up. They did a brilliant job, the four of them.”

Albert has been focusing on providing more experience to a wider cohort of riders and horses and producing under pressure on home territory will stand to the quartet making their mark on the Agria Irish Eventing team today.

“It is about developing more top riders, isn’t it? We’ve said it all along. Next year is the European Championship when six riders will be going. We want to have a bigger pool of riders to pick from.

“It’s so special to do it in Ireland too, in Millstreet and that’s extra pressure. Everybody’s watching so it’s great to do. 

“It’s a great start for our new sponsors Agria after the announcement was made about them coming on board on Friday. That support is invaluable and hopefully this is the start of more good things to come.”

A brilliant cross-country round in testing conditions had propelled Watson and Ballyneety Rocketman to the top of the podium in the Noel C Duggan yesterday and they take care of business in today’s jumping round, a clear leaving them on an aggregate tally of 44.4 faults, ahead of runner-up Cosby Green (USA) and Highly Suspicious on 52.2, with New Zealand’s Olympic medallist Jonelle Price, riding Chilli’s Midnight Star, in third.

“Sam had half the time faults of anybody else in the cross-country yesterday. Nobody made the time in the tacky ground but he was the fastest. You needed a properly fit horse in that ground to keep the revs up all the way around,” noted Albert.

“And then he came out fresh today. He had a bit in hand which was welcome but he jumped a lovely round and it was good for Sam.

“It made it a very good week. There’s a great spirit and the WhatsApp group for the riders is gone crazy. That’s what you want.”

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