“This is a dream week for me. If you can win the WEF and the grand prix, or be close to winning a WEF and a grand prix, it’s a good week. To win the WEF, the Nations Cup, and then the grand prix, it’s amazing.”
Victory in all three featured competitions at WEF is rarely if ever done, but that is exactly what Shane Sweetnam accomplished when he picked up a trifecta of wins at the Winter Equestrian Festival’s Week 8 in Wellington, Florida, USA.
For the third time in four days, Sweetnam led the victory gallop wearing the winner’s sash, this time in the $216,000 CSIO4* Grand Prix, presented by Lugano Diamonds. He previously won the $150,000 FEI Nations Cup CSIO4* with Team Ireland on Friday, and the $35,000 Ruby et Violette WEF Challenge Cup, Round 8, on Thursday.
While Sweetnam was aboard the 10-year-old Cobolt for Thursday’s win, he tacked up Spy Coast Farm’s 11-year-old Zangersheide stallion (Chacco Blue x Quilina Z) Chaqui Z for the week’s top-billed competitions.
Ireland’s super weekend was only magnified by 2nd placed, Irish rider Conor Swail riding Ruben LS La Silla—on Friday evening Swail won the FEI Nations Cup alongside his teammates. And Ali Wolff of the USA, who was part of the runner-up Nations Cup squad, finished 3rd in the grand prix aboard her longtime partner Casall. Wolff also earned an extra nod as the Martha Jolicouer Leading Lady Rider of WEF 8.
“I didn’t actually know what [points] I had accumulated throughout the week, so Lance told me five minutes before we rode in,” said Wolff. “It’s fantastic, I love that they acknowledge us, and thank you to Martha.”
Course designer Ken Brome crafted a track that once again resulted in an exciting jumpoff, although from the original entry list of 42, a whopping 17 riders jumped clear in Round 1. That made it the biggest jumpoff order of WEF 2017 thus far.
But with two, tight and technical rollback turns, the jumpoff kept the crowd’s attention from beginning to end. A hard left turn after an orange Hermès oxer that jumped towards the far end of the arena and rolled back on the left lead to a vertical with liverpool underneath was where several riders bid for a win ended.
“We watched the jump-off and saw how everything was going, and what was proving a little bit difficult. That was one of the places that I felt that I couldn’t just cut the angle too much,” Swail said of the approach to that fence. “Some horses were seeing the liverpool at the front of the vertical, and it was creating a few problems. Again, it is a good question, because that was one of the features of the round, to make sure the horse had seen the liverpool earlier so that you gave it every chance to ride that correctly.”
Sweetnam went early on in the jumpoff, with a dozen riders still to come behind him. He didn’t think he had a chance to win it but his time of 41.79 seconds held, with several riders clearing the timers in a faster time but with jumping faults added to their score. Beezie Madden and Coach, and Great Britain’s Jessica Mendoza with Toy Boy also jumped double clear to finish 4th and 5th, respectively. Brazil’s Pedro Muylaert and New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley rounded out the double clears in 6th and 7th place.
There were smiles all around in the warm up arena after the final rider went and Sweetnam realized he’d won. He was quickly surrounded by well-wishers in the warm up arena, including his parents and his three young children. It made for a large and jubilant awards presentation when everyone joined him for the podium photo, and a fabulous, fairytale end to the week for Irish riders.