Gallant Ireland runners-up in home Nations Cup

  • 11 August 2023, 18:48

Michael Duffy of Ireland celebrates on Cinca 3 after his ride in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Ireland competition during the 2023 Longines FEI Dublin Horse Show at the RDS in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

In the run-up to the FEI Nations Cup for the Aga Khan Trophy, there was a feeling that it would boil down to a shootout between Ireland and Switzerland, and that was how it transpired.

Unlike last year, it wasn’t glory for Michael Blake’s The Underwriting Exchange Irish team and they had to settle for a creditable second place finish behind an impeccable Swiss performance.

Drawn fifth to jump out of the eight teams, Ireland knew the task in hand, especially with their main rivals starting the competition with the advantage of being drawn last to go.

The first Irish rider into the prestigious Royal Dublin Society Main Arena and making his Aga Khan Trophy debut was Galway’s Michael Duffy riding Cinca 3, owned by Hibernian Horses Ltd.

Duffy got Ireland off to a strong start, a toe in the water-jump leaving him on four faults, but certainly a debut round to be proud of.

Another Aga Khan Trophy debutant but certainly no stranger to success, Michael Pender was next in for Ireland riding the Irish Sport Horse HHS Calais (ISH), owned by Bravo Hughes Ltd. The same water jump caused Pender also to finish on four faults.

A member of the winning team last year, and also in 2015, 2012 and 2004, Cian O’Connor was Ireland’s third line rider, partnering Nicole Walker’s nine-year-old mare Eve D’Ouilly. The third part of the combination was the only pole to fall for O’Connor, leaving Ireland on a team score of eight faults after the first three riders.

A combination who are no stranger to Aga Khan success – Shane Sweetnam and the Irish Sport Horse James Kann Cruz (ISH) were the anchors for the Irish team. Owned by Gizmo Partners LLC, the grey gelding rose to the occasion.

A clear was needed and was duly delivered. The home crowd came to life as the Corkman riding an Irish Sport Horse did the business, jumping a faultless round.

After the first round the Swiss team held the lead with three clear rounds and a team score of zero. Ireland, France and Great Britian were next in line, all carrying eight faults. On twelve faults were Belgium and Spain, leaving Mexico and The Netherlands trailing.

Jumping in reverse order in the second round the pressure was on. Elimination for Great Britian’s first line rider left the door open for Ireland. Duffy got Ireland off to an excellent start with a clear round.

The fourth fence was the only pole to come down for Kildare’s Pender in his second round. Clear rounds from Switzerland’s first two riders extended their lead.

O’Connor and his inexperienced mare had no choice but to deliver a clear round to keep Ireland in contention and, as he has so many times in the past, the Meathman delivered. The crowd erupted as he crossed the finish line, keeping Ireland’s dream alive.

Cian O’Connor of Ireland celebrates after his run on Eve d’Ouilly during the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Ireland in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as Switzerland’s third line riders jumped clear, leaving them on a team total of zero and Aga Khan Trophy winners.

Sweetnam did not jump James Kann Cruz second time around, as a clear round would not have changed the result – at best it would have narrowed the gap between Ireland and Switzerland.

Afterwards, Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) Show Jumping High Performance Director Michael Blake explained that with the European Championships coming up next just two weeks’ time from Milan, he would rather save James Kann Cruz for then.

Blake went on to say: “Not the result we wanted – it’s hard to retain something like the Aga Khan Trophy. The water played a big part today, which was something I wasn’t expecting – maybe it was the red wall in front of it. Michael Duffy’s horse seemed to back up a little bit and maybe he overrode it. Then with the others we decided to do one less stride but control became a bit of an issue.

“Normally it wouldn’t happen to us but today just didn’t go our way.

“You need clear rounds to win Nations Cups and we’re probably a little bit sore with the result – that’s three seconds in a row and, while it probably means we’re very consistent, maybe it means we need to up our game a little bit!”

On the Swiss performance, Blake added: “We expected that from them – they had a hard time earlier in the year but they’re coming good now.

“It is unbelievable that they haven’t qualified for the Olympics in Paris next year but I’m sure they’ll rectify that. Their Chef Michel Sorg is a great man and I’m delighted for him – I offer him and his team my heartiest congratulations.”

The Irish Show Jumping team is sponsored by The Underwriting Exchange

Irish High Performance athletes are kindly supported by Bucas Ireland

Charles Ancona – Official athlete clothing supplier to HSI’s Senior Olympic programmes


HHS Calais (ISH) – 2011 gelding by Cavalier Royale (HOLST) out of MHS OBOS Cruise (ISH) by OBOS Quality (OLD). Breeder: Ita Brennan, Co. Kilkenny. Owner: Bravo Hughes Ltd. Rider: Michael Pender (IRL).

James Kann Cruz (ISH) – 2013 gelding by Kannan (KWPN) out of CSF Telly Cruz (ISH) by Cruising (ISH). Breeder: Patrick Connolly. Owner: Gizmo Partners LLC. Rider: Shane Sweetnam (IRL).