Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam headed the rider rankings at the Hampton Classic Horse Show in New York, earning points in all ten of last week’s open jumper classes.
Sweetnam, who won two of the classes, amassed 355 points to easily outdistanced Todd Minikus (170) and fellow Irish rider Paul O’Shea (165).
For his efforts he was presented with a $30,000 cheque and a Longines timepiece by Juan-Carlos Capelli, Longines Vice-President and Head of International Marketing.
Sweetnam, who competes for his native Ireland but lives in Wellington, Florida, had aimed for the title.
“This award is a great thing for the riders, because we don’t often get this at a show. So I started from the first of the week to push for it.”
Sweetnam’s winning rides were on Venturo 9 to victory in last Wednesday’s $10,000 Marders Open Jumper, heading the jump-off in 41.01 seconds, just enough to hold off Amanda Derbyshire of Great Britain on Lady Maria Bh (41.65) and Richie Moloney of Ireland on Ypaja Yando (42.16). Sweetnam also took fifth on Eregast Van’t Kiezelhof (43.62).
In this class, riders with faultless first rounds went directly into their jump-off rounds, without leaving the ring. So Sweetnam, who works for Spy Coast Farm of Wellington, Florida, and Lexington, Kentucky, was at a disadvantage on Venturo 9 as the third starter and the first to jump-off. So he wasn’t confident that his time would be good enough to hold off the 28 horses still to come.
“When you’re that early, with so many good riders, you can never be sure. I thought the horse jumped superb, and I went as quick as I could. I didn’t really think I’d win at the end of the round, though,” he said.
>But when Sweetnam entered the ring as the last starter on Eregast Van’t Kiezelhof, the class was still his. So after jumping a beautifully faultless first round, he guided the gray gelding around the shorter course at a steady pace that still beat four horses.
“If I wasn’t leading with the other horse, for sure I would have had a go. But since I was still leading, I didn’t have to,” he said.
Venturo is a 10-year-old, Belgian Sport Horse stallion. “He’s still coming on. He’s quite green even though he’s 10, but I think there’s a lot more to come from him,” said Sweetnam. “He jumped great in both rounds. He’s definitely going in the right direction. He’s not really had to jump much going fast, so it was great to see that he could do it today and maybe do it more consistently.”
For his other win, Sweetnam stopped the jump-off timer in 33.90 seconds to win the $10,000 Bright Side Farm Jumper Class on Eregast Van’t Kiezelhof on Thursday. Sweetnam, 34, just edged Peter Leone on Wayfarer (34.46 seconds) and Molly Ashe-Cawley on Balous Day Date (35.20 seconds).
This time, Venturo lowered two rails in the first round, so he had to ride for the win on Eregast as the third-last starter.
“I think Venturo was a little bit empty after yesterday, because I went so fast. But with Eregast, I hadn’t pushed the buttons so much yesterday,” Sweetnam said. “Normally I would have given Venturo the day off between classes, but that didn’t work out this time with the way the show ran.”
So the strategy he set in place on Wednesday paid off with a second victory on Thursday. “If I said it was the plan, it would sound great, but it wasn’t,” Sweetnam said. “It worked out with Venturo yesterday, and today Eregast was in a better place because he wasn’t pushed, and, for sure, that’s what did it.”
On Wednesday Sweetnam took a shot and then bit his nails, nervously watching the riders after him. On Thursday he knew exactly what he had to do after Eregast cruised around the first round.
“My horse has a very good stride, and I watched Peter go and saw that he did eight strides from fence 3 to 4 in the jump-off. So I did one less, and that’s easily done with my horse because he has such a big stride. I think that was the difference.”