After beginning the week in a winning fashion, Conor Swail (IRL) stayed on top of the highly competitive fields in both of Thursday's FEI classes during Desert Holiday 1, presented by Brown Advisory. With huge classes coming up with both the $268,000 CAD Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) Team Competition Friday night and the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix Saturday night, Swail is building the right kind of momentum to carry him into the weekend.
The field of 43 entries was loaded with talent in the $76,000 CAD Pomponio Ranch1.50m Qualifier, so Swail had a tough task on his hands, but it was a pressure he handled with grace. Aboard Theo 160, (Christian 25 x Calando IV) he was the first to jump clear of an eventual 13 over Alan Wade’s (IRL) course.
“Theo was excellent like he always is for me,” he said of the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding. “I was first to go, which was a tough job because there were so many good horses and riders behind me.”
Among the horses and riders behind him were Darragh Kenny (IRL) with VDL Cartello (Cartani 4 x Lord), McLain Ward (USA) with First Lady (Don Diarado x Lordanos), and Kent Farrington (USA) with Landon (Comilfo Plus Z x Quadrillo) as the last to go. Swail did as he knows best and put down a fast round, hoping he put on enough pressure.
“There was a lot of galloping involved in the course tonight so I tried to set up on a good big gallop,” he explained of his strategy. “It was about gallop and balance. I thought Theo did that very well tonight and stayed clean and careful. I think I put enough pressure on that maybe made riders have mistakes here and there.”
The remainder of the field could not catch the time of 41.36 seconds put in by Swail and Theo. Only Alison Robitaille (USA) came close with Oakingham Lira (Tornesch x Del Piero P&B) in 41.83 seconds, taking second. Farrington was ultimately third in a time of 43.87 seconds.
In the $39,000 FarmVet CAD CSI2* 1.45m Speed, Swail ended up on top again, this time aboard Fasole du Seigneur, owned by Alexis Sokolov. After the pair won the Two Phase Wednesday, even without one stirrup, Swail felt confident in the mare’s ability to win the class Thursday.
“She’s in my barn so I know her well enough,” Swail said of the 12-year-old Belgian Sporthorse mare (Doremi x Ogano Sitte). “But I don’t compete on her much. Funny, yesterday I got caught out a little bit at [fence] two where she just threw me up in the air and lost my stirrup. Today was much smoother after yesterday’s round. I got a good bit of information and we had a nice bit of work in the morning. She’s always very fast and careful but was really with me and jumped very correctly.”
The duo’s time of 59.97 seconds put them at the top of the 49 entries, sealing the win. Amanda Derbyshire (GBR) slid into second late in the order with Cornwall BH (Con Air x Cambridge), while Nayel Nassar (EGY) claimed third with El Conde (Loro Piana Filou de Muze x Final Shot), owned by Evergate Stables LLC.
“She looks fussy and difficult, but she’s not,” Swail continued about the mare’s rideability. “She’s really brave and goes and jumps the jumps beautifully and she’s not as fussy as she looks. She looks all difficult but she’s actually very sweet.”
Swail is used to that winning feeling, but he feels the big wins are potentially still to come.
“When you’re in good form at the start of the week it’s easier to continue that way,” Swail said of the confidence he’s working off of as Desert Holiday 1 goes on. “The horses all seem to be in good form. [Count Me In] jumped a good round as well so I’m looking forward to the next few days. The place is wonderful here. I love coming back to the desert. Everything is wonderful and the people look after you really well. The horses are loving the grounds and the footing. It’s a great place to be.”
Swail now shifts his focus to Friday’s $268,000 CAD Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) Team Competition, presented by Brown Advisory, Friday night and the $1 Million CSI5* Coachella Cup Grand Prix, also presented by Brown Advisory, Saturday night, both of which hold high importance to him. Theo will go on to jump for the Trailblazers in the Team Competition, with Swail’s team currently with a significant lead.
“I’m planning to do [Count Me In] on Saturday,” Swail said. “He jumped a nice round tonight; he was a little edgy and I don’t think I rode him very well to be honest. He’s coming off a good win in the Las Vegas World Cup so he’s in good form. I need to get him a little quieter and I have to do a better job and we have a chance at Saturday night I think.”