Thermal, California, USA – January 15, 2023 – Conor Swail (IRL) is typically an easy favorite to win international competition at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). Though Sunday was no exception for the $145,100 Whittier Trust Whittier Trust CSI 3*, he had tough competition to sneak past to score yet another victory to conclude Desert Circuit II.
Prior to Swail’s clean effort with Theo 160 over Colm Quinn’s (IRL) track, a few notable names on talented mounts had secured spots in the jump-off. Two Olympians, in Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Cassio Rivetti, plus Kyle King (USA) and young superstar Eliza Broz (USA), stood in between Swail and the eventual top call in the first FEI Grand Prix of Desert Circuit 2023.
As the crowd prepared for what could only be a blazing fast jump-off, each of the first four competitors pulled rails on course, leaving the door open for Conor Swail (IRL) and his trusty partner Theo 160 to put in a clear round and win the class. It wasn’t that easy, though.
Gregory Wathelet (BEL) put the pressure on aboard Clarity, with a 4-fault round in 36.61 seconds, but their leading round at the time would not hold for very long.
The mark was topped topped by Cassio Rivetti (BRA) with Ilan Ferder’s Nadale Van Dorperheide in a 4-fault time of 35.52 seconds. If an unlucky rail were to fall, the hope of winning from a play-it-safe strategy was lost.
“I was last to go and there were two very fast 4-faulters and two 8-faulters so my strategy was to go around clear,” Swail said of his ultimate double-clear effort. “I thought my horse was jumping well enough this week that we could gamble on slowing it down and just trying to jump a clean round.”
Swail admitted Theo 160 was prepared to go fast, as he is typically asked to do in jump-off action. “He dove a little right on me over fence one; he was probably waiting for me to do a sharp turn or something,” Swail remarked. “That wasn’t really the plan. It was just about trying to get home safely. Thankfully it went to plan apart from that first jump there. The horse has been great all week. He’s a fabulous horse, he’s been on a great run. He finished up fabulous last year. He’s continuing on the good form so it’s a great start for me.”
A few months prior, Swail admitted Theo 160, a 2012 Holsteiner gelding (Christian 25 x Calando IV) owned by Team Philippaerts, wasn’t on his usual rhythm of clear rounds. “He wasn’t himself for a period of time,” he commented. “He was still trying hard but he had lost a bit of confidence and a bit of stride. We went through the basics of how healthy he was feeling and did some exercise and training at home. We got the vet to look at him and got him going again, and off he went.”
Swail’s travel schedule in 2022 allowed him to maximize FEI competition in the United States, keeping a number of horses in California to compete for top honors in the FEI events in the desert, while also keeping himself in contention for CSI 5* action.
“I have the same group here that I had last year actually,” he said. “Vital Chance [De La Roque] just arrived this week and he’s going to come out next week. Normally Theo is not my number one horse but it was his job to be number one this week and he really stepped up. He had a fabulous week. It is great to be able to manage your horses that way. I have my best horses out [of competition] this week but I’m lucky enough that I have a great string that they’re very capable of stepping in and doing a great job.”
Rivetti ended up in second with Wathelet in third, making the podium a who’s who of top-level show jumping.
CSI3* competition resumes during Desert Circuit III, kicking off with the FEI jog Wednesday, January 18.
Final Results – $145,100 Whittier Trust Grand Prix CSI 3*
1) Conor Swail (IRL) & Theo 160: 2012 HOLST gelding by Christian 25 x Calando IV, Team Philippaerts – 0 / 0 – 41.32
2) Cassio Rivetti (BRA) & Nadale van Dorperheide: 2013 BWP gelding by Zilverstar T x Winningmood, Ilan Ferder: 0 / 4 – 35.52
3) Gregory Wathelet (BEL) & Clarity: 2009 HOLST gelding by Clarimo x Ephebe For Ever, An Breeding – 0 / 4 – 36.61
Source: Press Release by Tori Bilas for Desert International Horse Park (DIHP)
Photos: © DIHP / High Desert Photo