Ireland Lays Claim to Longines League of Nations™ at World Equestrian Center –Ocala

Daniel Coyle was double clear for Ireland riding Legacy. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

Edited Press Release

Ocala, FL – Ireland brought the heat to Florida to win the $770,000 Longines League of Nations™ team event held on Saturday, March 23, at World Equestrian Center – Ocala (WEC) in Ocala, FL.

The top 10 countries in the world went head-to-head in the only North American stop of the newly introduced Longines League of Nations™. In a true battle of the titans, course designer Alan Wade’s track produced plenty of surprises over the two rounds of competition.

At the end of the opening round, the U.S. team, cheered on by the sold-out crowd, sat at the top of the standings with a clear score sheet. Ireland and the Netherlands were also on a score of zero while Belgium was close behind with four faults. France, Germany and Switzerland all incurred a total of eight faults in the opening round, while Brazil had a quick 12 faults to squeak into the second round. As only the top eight teams qualified for round two, Great Britain and Sweden, despite posting team scores of 12 faults apiece, failed to make the cut based on their slower combined times.

As is to be expected in team competition, the second round, held under the lights in the WEC Grand Arena, produced plenty of surprises. The stakes were raised even higher given that under the Longines League of Nations™ format, only three riders return for the second round and all three scores are counted.

Team Ireland is presented as the winner of the Longines League of Nations™. From left to right: Longines representative Michael Vuilleumier, International Sponsorship and Event Manager, Shane Sweetnam, Daniel Coyle, chef d’equipe Michael Blake, Cian O’Connor and Darragh Kenny. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

France was eliminated when its final rider, Kevin Staut, parted company with Beau de Laubry Z at the third fence on course. Belgium had to count the 21 faults posted by Niels Bruynseels when Delux van T & L took a dislike to the penultimate fence, despite having jumped clear in the opening round.

Brazil ended the night in sixth place with a total of 26 faults while Germany, who had won the opening event of the Longines League of Nations™ one month earlier in Abu Dhabi (UAE), placed fifth with 20 faults. Despite a clear scoresheet in the opening round, the Netherlands picked up 12 faults the second time out and fell down the leaderboard to fourth.

Anchor rider Cian O’Connor clinched victory for Ireland riding Maurice. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

While American Laura Kraut posted her second clear round of the night riding Baloutinue, Kent Farrington had a foot in the water before pulling another rail with Landon to jeopardize the U.S. team’s lead. By the time anchor rider McLain Ward entered the arena aboard Callas, there was no chance of an American win, and his four faults meant the U.S. would finish third overall on home ground.

Switzerland catapulted from seventh position into second place when all three team riders – Steve Guerdat, Pius Schwizer and Martin Fuchs in that order – came home clear. That left the Swiss on a final score of eight faults for second place.

Darragh Kenny and Amsterdam 27 produced scores of zero and four for Ireland. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

Ireland clearly had the winning formula in Ocala. When the first three riders jumped clear in the opening round, chef d’equipe Michael Blake opted not to send out anchor rider Cian O’Connor and instead kept his mount, Maurice, fresh for round two. Darragh Kenny and Amsterdam 27 faulted at the double combination for four faults the second time out but Daniel Coyle pulled it back by delivering his second clear round of the evening riding Legacy. O’Connor had to keep all the rails up to avoid a jump-off with the Swiss and that he did, although a tick of the Longines clock put him just over the time allowed for a single time fault.

In the end, a total of five faults gave Ireland the win in what was certainly the highest caliber of team show jumping sport the United States has seen in modern times with 16 of the top 20 riders in the Longines World Rankings competing in Saturday’s Longines League of Nations™.

Shane Sweetnam and Otis Blue were clear in the horse’s first team appearance for Ireland. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

“You need to be really sure of the three people that you’re putting in,” said Irish team chef d’equipe Michael Blake of having no drop score in the second round. “You need to know that they can get it done. You have to get a good score from everybody. We knew we could take a time fault, but we had to leave the jumps up, and no better man than Cian to leave them up.”

Like he has on so many other occasions, O’Connor was able to handle the pressure.

“You can only deliver when you’re last to go if the team has done their job,” noted O’Connor. “My job was easy with these three guys having amazing clear rounds. They had set the whole thing up for me, really.”

O’Connor has competed at WEC – Ocala the past two years and was more than happy to make the return trip for the Longines League of Nations™.

“It’s one of the great wonders of the world,” raved O’Connor about the venue, which drew high praise from every international competitor. “It’s the most amazing place. The facility is fantastic, and we’re delighted to be here. It’s a special place. Sometimes the unsung heroes of our sport are the grooms, and for them, the way they’re looked after, plus the stables and the level of detail here, is second to none. We’re absolutely delighted to be here, and big thanks to the Roberts Family for building this wonderful facility for us.”

Cian O’Connor celebrates an Irish triumph in the Longines League of Nations™. Photo by Jump Media.

The Irish also had an advantage in that all four team members are based in Florida for the winter season. For Coyle especially, he is familiar with the WEC Grand Arena since his horses’ owner, Ariel Grange, moved her base from Wellington to Ocala.

“It’s only Legacy’s second time jumping here so she hasn’t done much here, but I know the ring well,” said Coyle, who produced one of the evening’s six double clear rounds. “It’s been an incredible change for me to be here rather than in Wellington. I think it’s a lot better for our young horses and our program and also for our older horses; it gives us a better set up for the summer rather than doing too much already in the winter. I’m happy it worked out the way it did today. I’m delighted.”

With a victory in Ocala, Ireland now sits at the top of the Longines League of Nations™ leaderboard. The prestigious new Longines League of Nations™ series sees the same 10 countries go head-to-head in four events – Abu Dhabi (UAE), Ocala (USA), St. Gallen (SUI) and Rotterdam (NED) – before the final takes place in Barcelona (ESP) from October 3 to 6, 2024.

Full results are available on Longines Timing. For additional competition information, visit www.weclonginesleagueofnations.com.

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