Elkton, Md.—Oct. 22
That’s how long it’s been since an Irish rider last stood atop the podium at a five-star competition. But that nearly six-decade drought ended Sunday when Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue won the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill.
Earlier this year, when the pair earned a podium spot at Badminton CCI5*-L (England)—the first Irish rider to do so in 40 years—he made a prophetic statement.
“When I was lucky enough to podium this year, I did sort of say, tongue-in-cheek, ‘And it won’t be long before you’re looking at an Irish winner, and I hope you’re looking at him,’ ” he said.
The pair started the weekend in 12th after dressage with a 33.7. They added just 1.2 time penalties on cross-country and were the only pair of 14 to jump double clear in show jumping to finish on a score of 34.9.
O’Connor, who sat in fourth going into show jumping, put a lot of pressure on the three to jump behind him. The margin for error was tight, with just over 5 points separating the top four horses. Five-star first-timer Mia Farley, who was third overnight, had two fences down with Phelps to finish fifth. William Fox-Pitt, second overnight aboard Grafennacht, lowered one fence to finish on a 31.5, dropping him below O’Connor.
Watch their winning round, courtesy of USEF Network and ClipMyHorse.TV:
Oliver Townend of Great Britain, who led both the dressage and cross-country phases with 9-year-old Cooley Rosalent, entered the ring with one rail in hand over O’Connor—but just one. “Rosie” looked in good form as she jumped the first half of Michel Vaillancourt’s course, but she dropped a rail jumping out of the triple combination at Fence 9. When the pair had the next jump down, Townend slipped behind O’Connor and Fox-Pitt in the standings.
“She was giving me an amazing feeling,” Townend said. “I felt it was a baby mistake, possibly, coming out of the combination. I felt that everything was right going in, and then I felt it was me, maybe getting a little bit too desperate to the next one. So perhaps she had one down, and I had one down, but in terms of for the future, I’ve not got a concern about the show jumping phase. I thought she jumped a beautiful round and we have two mistakes, and it was that. I can’t tell you how happy I am.
“At the same time, I nearly cried for Austin,” Townend added. “He’s a good man, and he’s been a good friend to me in [the] fairly tough times of the last few years, and we share another lunatic friend, so I would imagine there would be a get-together and a party at some stage over Burghley [which Townend won] and Maryland.”
Coming to the U.S. was not originally part of O’Connor and “Salty’s” schedule, but after they had a refusal early in the cross-country course at Burghley in September, O’Connor retired and rerouted to Maryland.
“It was actually a Maryland events committee member, Tim Gardner, who when I was having a little bit of a down moment at Burghley, he put his arm around me and said, ‘You’ve got to bring Salty to Maryland,’ ” O’Connor said. “Because obviously Pau [France] would’ve been the obvious choice. So he was the man that convinced us that we should come here.”
The 14-year-old British Sport Horse (Jaguar Mail—Rock Me Baby, Rock Kind) owned by O’Connor and The Salty Syndicate has a habit of climbing the leaderboard in the jumping phases, and O’Connor felt confident in his ability to perform well at Maryland.
“We wouldn’t have come to Maryland if we didn’t feel there was a strong possibility of jumping a clear round, but saying that, the last couple of three-days I’ve done I’ve ended up with a couple of cheap rails—it happens, nothing really obvious, and today I make a horrendous mistake [at the liverpool] and he gets me out of jail. … He’s an unbelievable horse. He’s a proper, proper five-star horse and event horse that likes to climb.”
Fox-Pitt was thrilled with how “Lillie,” an 11-year-old Oldenburg (Birkhof’s Grafenstolz—Nachtigall, Narew) performed in her second five-star.
“She was great today,” he said. “She can knock a jump or two down, and she can jump a clear round. She’s not a show jumper, even though she’s by Grafenstolz. I kind of wish she was like Lordships Graffalo [five-star winner, also by Grafenstolz]. … She can be a little bit economical, and today she really wasn’t—she nearly could’ve jumped a clear round, but she didn’t, and I was still delighted with one down. … There’s a clear round in there.
“For Austin, for sure, we’re thrilled,” he continued. “Austin has got his five-star ticket now, and we’ll be watching many more.”
Hannah Sue Hollberg was fourth and the highest-placed U.S. rider with Capitol H I M. The pair added just 7.2 time penalties on cross-country and another 0.4 time faults in show jumping to finish on a 37.1.
The 16-year-old Holsteiner (Con Air 7—Heraldika, Heraldik) was originally meant to be owner Christa Schmidt’s mount. She competed “Chito” through training level, but he proved to be too much horse, so Hollberg took over the ride in 2019.
“We really didn’t have extremely high expectations for him starting out,” she said. “We just kind of brought him up the levels, and every time we asked him to do more he would just step up and, you know, answer the questions. I wish I had gotten him as a young horse, because he’s 16 now, but he is incredible. Every time I ride him really well and ask him to do the right things, he does everything just so nice, and also when I mess up he still somehow does it right.”
In the USEF Eventing CCI3*-L National Championship, Pan American Games-bound Caroline Pamukcu earned a wire-to-wire win with HSH Connor on a 25.4. It’s the second win for the pair in as many weeks, as they also won the CCI3*-S for 7-year-olds at Morven Park (Virginia) last weekend.
“It was emotional for me because I remember his first jump school, his first flat school, and he was so close last year to winning the young horse world championships, that for him to win the USEF national championship three-star, it’s great for him,” she said. “Hopefully it’s a good last show before Pan Ams.”
Lauren Nicholson and Larcot Z were on Pamukcu’s heals all weekend, and the pair was second on a 28.6. Savannah “Woodge” Fulton moved up from eighth after dressage to third with Cash Point after the pair went double clear on cross-country and in show jumping to finish on a 31.4 in third.
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