Wellington, Florida, USA – March 19, 2022 – Events at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) on Saturday, March 19 culminated in the $216,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 4* during the “Saturday Night Lights.” WEF 10, also sponsored by Horseware Ireland, is the fourth week of FEI-rated four-star competition hosted throughout the circuit. At the night’s conclusion, Olympic team gold and silver medalist Laura Kraut (USA) took home the top prize with her long-time partner, Confu, owned by St. Bride’s Farm.
In addition to the variety of national hunter, jumper, and equitation classes, WEF 10 will shine the spotlight on the up-and-coming stars of show jumping on Sunday, March 20, in the $50,000 Hermès Under 25 Series Final Grand Prix.
Forty-five entries from 14 nations across the globe contested Michel Vaillancourt’s (CAN) opening course. His challenge for the riders included two double combinations, a triple combination, and a triple-bar early on at obstacle three. The first clear-round came as the fifth rider on course, Ashley Vogel (USA), produced a top ride aboard Madiba AG Z. Two horses later, Sweden’s Petronella Andersson (SWE) put in her bid for the top title and ensured a jump-off. As the class neared its halfway mark, the field of returning riders grew with Mark McAuley (IRL), Lillie Keenan (USA), and Ben Maher (GBR) adding their names to the coveted list. Belgium’s Abdel Saïd (BEL) put forward a heroic effort to repeat his winning performance in the WEF 9 grand prix but tipped just over the time allowed of 83 seconds and incurred a single penalty.
A final tally of 10 world-class pairs set the stage for an exciting jump-off across the evening’s final short course. Vogel led the charge but would not see the top of the podium as she accrued four faults. Andersson was the first to put in a successful double-clear, but McAuley was quick to up the ante. The night looked to be in the bag for the Irish as McAuley sat in second and Conor Swail put in a blazing round as the second to last to go into the lead, but Kraut and Confu clearly had other plans as the last to go in the jump-off.
The duo proved they are never a pair that should be counted out. Kraut and the 15-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Contact Me x Cambridge 8) exploded into action, finishing with a final time of 36.44 seconds.
“I knew how quick all of the riders were tonight, so when I was heading in, I thought, ‘I would be happy with fifth,’” explained Kraut. “My plan was just to go at his pace and hopefully let him be double clear. The turn to the wall and the rollback to the oxer felt incredibly fast to me. I was then lucky to get a good jump on the second to last fence, and then also lucky to keep the final fence up. He knew exactly what to do.”
The win was extra special for both Kraut and the Horseware Ireland team. Horseware Ireland has been a long-time supporting partner of Kraut, and the win seemed almost fated after the two appeared in a promotional item for the company earlier in the week.
Kraut admitted that if she had been told Confu would produce this victory several months ago, she may not have believed it. The event was the first grand prix for Confu since November of 2021 in Europe. She shared that the gelding suffered from a serious virus at the end of 2021, and his future had been extremely unclear.
“The win tonight means everything,” emphasized Kraut. “A few months ago, we were crying because we weren’t sure he was going to make it. It means the world to have him win, and to win on Horseware week, I don’t think we could have scripted it any better. I’m so thankful to have had their support for many years, and it feels like winning this class was meant to be.”
The luck of the Irish was clearly still strong during the penultimate day of the Horseware Ireland week as both Swail and McAuley joined Kraut in the lap of honor. Swail once again locked in the honors of the runner-up position, this time with his own 13-year-old Selle Francais gelding Vital Chance De La Roque (Diamant De Semilly x Rivage Du Poncel) after flying over the final fence in 37.10 seconds.
“I’m very pleased with how tonight went, and I think we are a great partnership,” stated Swail. “He’s quite a buzzy little chap; he is quite aggressive, but he uses it to his advantage because he is so small. He is small and mighty.”
The pair have had a successful season thus far, but Swail admitted he may left room for a quicker ride.
“I wouldn’t have minded going a little better from fence one to two,” he described. “I was a little behind in some areas, but I thought I was quite tight back to the oxer and had a good shot to the last fence. The final fence I rode forward and wide to give him a little space and the best chance to jump it well.”
Mark McAuley (IRL) and SNC McAuley Equestrian’s 13-year-old BWP gelding Jasco VD Bisschop (Dulf Van Den Bisschop x Krunch De Breve) duplicated their third-place finish in a four-star grand prix when they stopped the clock mere milliseconds behind Swail for a finishing time of 37.55 seconds. The pair were previously second-place recipients as well in the $216,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI4* during WEF 3.
“He hasn’t jumped much under the lights, but I think this circuit has been great for him,” said McAuley. “It felt almost easy to ride him this evening compared to when we competed in the evening on week three. No matter what I did as third to go tonight, I was always going to leave the door open with a field of competitors like these behind me.”
“In the end, maybe I should have taken some stupid risks and I would’ve won,” he added, “but Laura deserved her win tonight and I am very happy for her.”
Final Results – $216,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI 4*
1) Laura Kraut (USA) & Confu – 0 / 0 – 36.44
2) Conor Swail (IRL) & Vital Chance de La Roque – 0 / 0 – 37.10
3) Mark Mcauley (IRL) & Jasco Vd Bisschop – 0 / 0 – 37.55
Source: Press Release from Jennifer Wood Media Inc. for ESP – Equestrian Sports Productions / WEF – Winter Equestrian Festival
Photos: © Sportfot