Ocala, Florida (March 22, 2015)— It wasn’t luck but extraordinary riding that brought Cian O’Connor to the top of the leader boards in the Live Oak International CSI2*W Grand Prix and World Cup Qualifier on Saturdayafternoon. The two-time Irish Olympian confessed that Adena Springs’ nine year-old Belgian Warmblood, Good Luck, not only lived up to his name but did so while jumping “like a stag.”
“He’s never jumped on grass before. We got him in November with the aim of getting to the Olympics and wanted to bring him to Live Oak because we wanted to get him jumping on grass, like in Europe. We’ll stay in Germany for the summer and compete in France, Belgium, Holland, then Dublin and Canada in August before— hopefully— the European Championships.” O’Connor explained after his victory.
“I’m grateful to my entire team this weekend for always going the extra mile. This has been his biggest performance and best result so far,” added the 35-year-old Dublin Horse Show Aga Khan Trophy winner and member of 96 Irish Nations Cup teams. O’Connor and the Canturo-bred bay gelding, who were the last go of the day, earned their victory gallop on a flawless 56-second round in the jump-off.
The only rider from the international field of 42 out of 46 to also complete course designer Leopoldo Palacios’ first round fault-free and under time was four-time U.S. Equestrian Federation Equestrian of the Year Elizabeth ‘Beezie’ Madden, who finished reserve in the jump-off with Abigail Wexner’s 13 year-old Dutch (Nabab de Reve x Via Volo van de Moldendreef) Warmblood mare, Vanilla, posting four faults during their 48.32-second effort.
“We went in and focused on riding our round,” said Madden, 51, who in 2014 became the first equestrian in history to win Hickstead’s prestigious King George Gold Cup and is the first female show jumper ever to pass the $1 million mark in earnings.
“And,” she added with a grin, “put the pressure on Cian.”
Pressure was in ample abundance as the 14-element first round challenged horses and riders to rise to the occasion. After the first six were unable to meet an original time allowed (85 seconds), show jumping event director Damian Guthrie made an adjustment to 90 seconds. It was still more than a dozen entries into the Grand Prix before Australia’s Scott Keach, riding Viriato for Southern Cross Equestrian, would deliver the first effort that left all the rails in their cups (yet still incurred two time faults), followed by Manuel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, who had the time but at the cost of two rails.
American entry Kirsten Coe, riding Lovsta Tuteri’s Hanoverian (Contendro x Grannina) stallion, Czardas 30, cleared the rails but at a scant one fault over the time allowed for a 92.36 finish— which still earned the duo third place honors and a stride closer to the World Cup.
“The course was difficult but I’ve been waiting four long days for this class,” Coe said. “Our league isn’t over yet!”
“It was difficult to go clean, yes,” added O’Connor, “but that’s what a World Cup qualifier is supposed to do. Good horses, like good cream, will rise to the top.”
Rounding out the top 12 respectively from the first round were Australia’s fourth-placed Keach and Viriato (4/95.42), followed by an all-American cast to complete the ribbons: Brianne Goutal and Ballade van het Indihof (4/86.58); Charlie Jayne and Chill RZ (4/86.79); Richard Fellers and Flexible (4/88.65); Charlie Jacobs and Flaming Star (4/88.80); Jessica Springsteen and Davendy S (4/89.49); Springsteen’s coach, Laura Kraut and Nouvelle (4/90.01); Callan Solem and VDL Wizard (4/90.81); and Vinton Karrasch and Coral Reef Follow Me II (5/92.37).
O’Connor’s victory keeps him at the top of the standings in the Live Oak International $10,000 E2 Leading Rider Award and sets the stage for an exciting conclusion on Sunday with the $34,000 CSI2* Hollow Creek Farm Winning Round at 2:00 p.m.
Follow the action and learn more about the Live Oak International at www.liveoakinternational.com.