March 21—Ocala, Fla.
As the final east coast qualifier of the season, the lineup of the $50,000 Live Oak International CSI-W included an awful lot of ambitious riders all jockeying for an invitation to the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas this April. But Cian O’Connor had a much more modest goal: He just wanted to test out his rising star, Good Luck, with an outing on the grass. And that stallion outdid himself, rising to the top of the 46-horse class in a competitive class to earn blue for the Irish rider and owner Adena Springs.
The World Cup class started shortly after the marathon phase of the Live Oak CAI wrapped up, where 2014 Chronicle of the Horse Overall Horseman of the Year Chester Weber—who also hosts the Live Oak International at his family’s Live Oak Farm—finished on top of the FEI team horse division.
Rails came flying over in Leopoldo Palacios’ show jumping track, with three riders eliminated, five bowing out early and another eight having at least 18 penalties. O’Connor pointed out that was a function of the class’s two-star qualification, which allowed less-highly ranked riders to compete. But it was still a World Cup qualifier, which meant said riders would be competing over a true 1.60-meter course.
“There’s two-star clientele attempting to jump [a] World Cup [course]” he said. “It gets hard.”
Beezie Madden laid down an efficient clear on Vanilla, and for a while it looked like she’d only have to jump once to win as poles came flying in combinations left and right. Two riders picked up just time faults: Kristen Coe on Czardas had 1 and Scott Keach and Viriato picked up 2. Last to go, O’Connor and Good Luck’s clear called for a jump-off.
Over the short course Vanilla ticked a rail at the second-to-last fence after Madden debated whether or not to take an inside turn to that jump.
“Before I went in we asked the course designer and he said he had narrowed [that oxer] quite a bit, and that was when I made the decision to go inside,” said Madden. “I wanted to put enough pressure on Cian that he messed up.”
O’Connor let the 9-year-old Belgian Warmblood stallion (Canturo—Famosa, Furioso II) gallop around comfortably and leave all the rails in the cups for the win.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t exciting. The stands were buzzing at Good Luck’s extraordinary scope, as he cleared every fence with plenty of room to spare. O’Connor is still testing out that horse’s gears, having just paired up with him in November, but he has his sights firmly locked on the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
“One of the best horses I’ve ever had was Waterford Crystal, 15 years ago,” recalled O’Connor, who won individual bronze on Blue Lloyd at the 2012 London Olympic Games. “I’ve had a lot of nice ones since, but I don’t think I’ve had one like this. This is a different league. So I’m really happy because I always thought a lot of him, and really put my neck out to get him.”
O’Connor convinced sponsor Frank Stronach to invest in the still-green horse last winter, impressed with that horse’s sheer ability. The horse had just been jumping 1.45-meter tracks with Fabrice Galdini in Europe, but O’Connor was sure he would be a winner. He’s already looking toward the FEI European Championships (Germany) this August, which serve as a qualifier for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Coe looked elated at her third place finish with Czardas 30, who just jumped a steady clear round at the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix (Calif.) last weekend. This ribbon guarantees her an invite to the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas in a few weeks. She just decided to compete him at Live Oak when she heard others in the tight race for an entry to Vegas were showing.
“When I heard that Charlie [Jayne], Brianne [Goutal] and Katie [Dianan] were heading here, I changed my plans quickly,” said Coe. “I really had no plans to come. I think we called [organizer] Chester Weber three days ago.”
Madden and Coe will stay in Ocala through the weekend to compete in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix at the nearby HITS Ocala (Fla.) showgrounds on Monday, March 23. Madden will take her 2013 Rolex FEI World Cup Finals winner Simon (who she’ll also take to Las Vegas) and Coe will take Baronez.
O’Connor laughed when asked if he’d compete.
“While these guys are chasing millions I have to take the small books,” he said.
Full results for both show jumping and driving are up at LiveOakInternational.com.