The Trelawny Trailblazers have taken an early lead in the third season of Major League Show Jumping by winning the gold medal Friday in the $270,000 Premiere Equestrian CSI5* Team Competition. With elite riders Conor Swail (IRL), Lillie Keenan (USA), and Darragh Kenny (IRL), the team came home on a completely clean slate, quick enough to outpace the second-place team, Helios.
Jumping three clears in the first round of competition was the first step for the Trailblazers, and it was a step they easily accomplished. Putting Keenan and Kenny in next to secure the jump-off for gold was the next step. The Trailblazers had the second quickest time in round two; Karl Cook (USA) was just too quick with Caracole De La Roque for Helios, so Swail had to jump off first for gold, leaving both teams’ fate in the hands of Erynn Ballard (CAN) and Narcotique V/H Dingenshof.
Luckily, speed is Swail’s specialty. With his 10-year-old Casturano, he jumped to a time of 45.89 seconds. Ballard went as fast as she could with Ilan Ferder’s mare, but two rails fell and added six seconds to her ultimate time, and the win went to the Trailblazers.
“We’re three world class riders and three great horses so the idea was to get through each phase,” Swail said of the team strategy. “We had three nice clear rounds in the first round and then the second round strategy was to put the fastest horses in to get us into the second jump-off. [Casturano] is a bit greener than the rest but a great athlete. I think there was a little gap and I think I put enough pressure on and we got the right result.”
Keenan and Kenny both took top results Thursday in the CSI5* qualifying class, and brought the same mounts forward for the team class.
“We only did that because we knew our horses could jump and win two days in a row,” Keenan explained. “We would never risk this class for the Trailblazers because we always want to win for the team. I’ve had [Agana Van Het Gerendal Z] for six years and he is incredibly special because every class he goes into he tries to win. Whenever he doesn’t it’s my fault and not his. He’s a handful on the ground but he means business when the timer starts. I’m grateful to have him and to be on a team where he can shine in these moments.”
Kenny echoed that the team is working off one another’s strengths and the horsepower they have is surely going to keep them going as the season continues. With a seven-point lead now, the Trailblzers are sitting in a good place in the team rankings, but the season is far from over.
“We obviously are a great team and a really strong standard of horses,” Kenny shared. “[Chic Chic] felt super yesterday. He jumped well for two days so I expected him to be good today but he was totally fantastic. He’s a competitive horse; he ‘s so careful and he tries his best every round. He’s an incredibly versatile horse. He can go in that big class yesterday, he can go in the team class and do two rounds and he’ll probably come out tomorrow and jump the Grand Prix as well.”
All three riders are veteran MLSJ team riders, and Swail already has a season title to his name, back when he jumped for Eye Candy. Now riding for new colors, he is continuing the winning spirit and motivation remains high.
“I like this format,” Swail said of the Major League team class format. “It makes you want to win the class. We jump many Nations Cups and we want to win for Ireland, and it gives me the same feeling. There’s a nice bit of rivalry. I want to be part of the winning team. We have a strong team and I expect us to do well.”
Keenan echoes that the classes offer an added variety and a way to get her horses more mileage at the CSI5* level.
“These classes offer a great opportunity for some more seasoned horses that aren’t jumping the height of their ability, but you can still have fun and be competitive,” she said. “It’s good for younger horses; Conor’s horse is greener than my horse and Darragh’s horse, but it’s great to step him up. The format encourages you to actually enjoy this. When you’re with a strong group of riders it only motivates you to be that much better. Since starting the League it’s made me a better rider and it’s given me the opportunity to push myself.”
Kenny has the opportunity to not only ride in the team class, but he also trains riders competing along the tour, making his job just a notch more dynamic.
“It’s bringing the top professionals to be super competitive which is great, but also I train clients that are jumping in the class,” he explained of the opportunity MLSJ is bringing to riders. “It’s bringing young riders into these shows. It’s fantastic for the industry here. It’s a great idea and it’s serving a great purpose.”
MLSJ co-founder Keean White was thrilled with how the second leg of the tour played out in Traverse City.
“It was a great second leg,” White shared. “We had a good mix today. We had some very strong teams, we had some teams that didn’t have their strongest possible field, but the results were quite interesting. A head-to-head with Helios and Trelawny was really cool and exciting to see. It’s going to be a good rivalry. We’ve learned after three seasons to be consistent. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Rounding out the podium, Northern Lights took the bronze medal for team riders Sean Jobin, Ali Ramsay and Nicole Walker.
With MLSJ heading to Canada next, the tour makes stops in Toronto at Angelstone Events and Ottawa at Wesley Clover Park before returning to Traverse City for the American Gold Cup in September.
Before the week ends, however, riders still have to contend both the $414,300 B&D Builders CSI5* Grand Prix and the $76,000 Cabana Coast CSI2* Grand Prix on Saturday.