Conor Swail (IRL) had a big choice to make with his entry in Sunday’s $226,000 Marshall & Sterling CSI4* Grand Prix to conclude Desert Circuit IX. His choices were Theo 160, who has earned more prize money during Desert Circuit this season than in 2021 and 2022 combined, or Vital Chance De La Roque, who has been in the midst of a mid-life crisis of sorts.
The world-ranked number six opted for the latter, and his decision paid off, taking victory in the final Grand Prix of the season at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP). While a win is a win, Swail recognizes the horse didn’t put in his best performance, meaning there is homework to do despite a major victory.
“I’m very happy obviously,” Swail reflected. “[Vital Chance] is still not where he should be or where he’s going to be, but it was a day to get in the trenches and fight it out. It’s a great result today but as far as going forward we have a lot to improve on.”
Swail and “Vinny” put in the second of only two clear rounds over Peter Grant’s (CAN) course, following Sophia Siegel and A-Girl in the jump-off. With Siegel pulling two rails on her way to a time of 52.13 seconds, Swail kept his pace slow, but still accumulated 8 faults, meaning it came down to time. He picked up the pace and crossed the timers in 48.31 seconds, taking the win in an uncharacteristic fashion.
“When I won [the CSI3* Grand Prix] on Theo [week three], there was no other clear and I just went slow clear on him, and that was the first time I ever had to go in and try to jump clear,” Swail shared. “This was the second and I kind of failed but at least I still won.”
The crowd became extremely engaged once the duo pulled the second rail and the win was up in the air. Swail is used to extreme pressure situations, but he’s not as familiar with his horse in this state, so nothing was guaranteed.
“The jump-off is a lot less technical, and especially today; it was mostly singles out there, really,” Swail explained. “When Sophia had a couple down so I thought I’d just tip around and be handy. I suppose it made it exciting again. He got aggressive on me and he made a few mistakes. I sped it up a bit and I think cutting inside to the last helped me.”
Choosing between two impressive mounts as candidates for a CSI4* grand prix isn’t the worst of problems for elite riders, but Swail recognized a lot was on the line with his decision.
“Theo has been incredible the whole season here. A four-star grand prix is a bit of a stretch for him. The better horse is obviously Vinny; it’s his job to come and do this and he’s normally very good at it we’re just in a bit of a confidence crisis at the moment. Thankfully we pulled it off today,” he said.
Swail knows he has work to do with Vinny, but their partnership is a strong one and they have the results behind them to prove he will get back to the top.
“He’s always a feisty horse; I think that what makes him so good,” he remarked of the 14-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Diamant De Semilly x Rivage Du Poncel). “But he really is boiling over on me at the minute and I’m struggling to try to manage that. This was a big step forward, winning the four-star Grand Prix. We’re going in the right direction. He’s one of the best horses in the world when he’s in top form. It’s going to take another three or four shows at least.”
Siegel finished second on the podium while Cassio Rivetti finished third with Nadale Van Dorperheide, owned by Ilan Ferder, making for an international podium to conclude FEI jumping for the season at DIHP.
Kyle King and Kaitlin Campbell Claim Circuit Awards
A few riders are headed home with some bonus cash and fancy prizes this Sunday in recognition of incredible consistency and top performances week after week of Desert Circuit.
Kyle King claimed the $100,000 National Grand Prix Rider Bonus after topping several $50,000 National Grand Prix classes throughout the circuit and picking up $64,000 in prize money in the weekly class.
“It’s super cool,” King said of winning the $100,000 bonus. “I took it very seriously because this year I’m developing some younger horses. We were sitting pretty tight after week six but I really put my focus on it and finished up strong which was totally my plan. It’s nice when a plan works out. We work hard out here and most of these horses have different owners. This is a pure rider bonus so it’s fantastic.”
Kaitlin Campbell won the $50,000 Leading 1.40m Rider Bonus after a stellar season in 1.40m open action, accumulating $36,900 over the course of the circuit.
“The 1.40m class is a really good class they’ve had on Sundays,” Campbell remarked. “I have done a variety of horses in there; it’s a good stepping stone for a bunch of different horses. I think I had five different horses get money in that class. I used Palina [De L’Escaut] today, which is my best horse. I moved her down a level today to secure that and get it done.”
Campbell didn’t stop there, though. She also took home a brand-new Top Jock tack box as winner of the Leading Open Jumper Rider award, earning $50,322.50 in the qualifying classes throughout Desert Circuit.
“It’s super,” she said of winning the Top Jock tack box. “We don’t have anything like that and we go all over doing FEI show so it’ll be useful to have that in FEI. It’s so generous that they donated that for the award.”
King and Campbell’s names took up the top two spots on various leaderboards throughout the season, ultimately neck and neck for the Grand Prix Bonus and the Leading Rider Award. While they are both elite competitors, they’re also good friends and were ultimately satisfied to get to spread the wealth with the bonuses.
“Kyle and I are on the DIHP Roadrunners team so we’re used to working together but we used this to work against each other,” Campbell joked. “But we still have a good time. Whoever jumps the best wins at the end of the day.”
King echoed the sentiment. “I’m really proud of her,” he said. “She’s a tough competitor and she and I are locals here, plus teammates on the Roadrunners. I’m super proud of her. I’m glad I got the big one though.”
Final Results: $226,000 Marshall & Sterling CSI4* Grand Prix
1. VITAL CHANCE DE LA ROQUE: 2009 SF gelding by Diamant de Semilly x Rivage du Poncel
CONOR SWAIL (IRL), Conor Swail: 0/8/48.31
2. A-GIRL: 2010 SWB mare by A-Dur x Careful 28
SOPHIA SIEGEL (USA), Sophia Siegel: 0/8/52.13
3. NADALE VAN DORPERHEIDE: 2013 BWP gelding by Zilverstar T x Winningmood
CASSIO RIVETTI (BRA), Ilan Ferder: 4/79.48
4. CHIC D EMMA Z: 2013 ZANG stallion by Cigaret JV H Z x Unique Drum Van Het Juxschot
SAMANTHA BUIRS (CAN), Samantha Buirs: 4/82.17
5. CALACAS D AUBIGNY: 2012 SF gelding by Jarnac x Notrestar Dela Nutria
ZUME GALLAHER (USA), Blue Gate Stables, LLC: 4/83.025
6. ECHO DE VIRTON: 2010 SBS gelding by Vagabond De La Pomme x Grignoteur De La Fontaine
MARIE VALDAR LONGEM (NOR), Marie Valdar Longem:4/84.52
7. DELUXENTO: 2008 KWPN gelding by Cardento x Lux Z
CAROLINE LYNN (USA), C & M Partnership LLC: 4/85.42
8. KARDENTA VAN’T MEERHOF: 2010 BWP mare by Cardento x Concorde
ELISA BROZ (USA), Hidalgo LLC: 8/80.00
9. BONITA VH KEIZERSHOF Z: 2011 ZANG mare by Bustique x For Pleasure
ALI RAMSAY (CAN), Ramsay Equestrian Inc.: 8/80.96
10. ACE OF HEARTS: 2010 ESH gelding by Aliandro B x Ra Ex Romanov ESH
GREGORY WATHELET (BEL), Gregory Wathelet: 8/81.22
11. DJANGO II: 2011 gelding by Lordano x Brilliant Invader
KATIE LAURIE (AUS), Katie Laurie: 8/82.06
12. LUIGI VD BISSCHOP: 2011 BWP gelding by Bamako De Muze x Nabab De Reve
MATT ARCHER (USA) Rhys Farms, LLC: 8/83.27
Right Place, Right Time: Estimated Prophet Tops Junior Hunters
It was a twist of fate that Traci and Carleton Brooks discovered Estimated Prophet in 2021 at a farm in Kentucky.
“We first met him the week they imported him in Kentucky,” Traci Brooks commented about that fateful day meeting the now 7-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Cornet Obolensky x Argentinus). “He was doing the jumpers. They were jumping him and we were joking that he should be a derby horse because he was jumping 1.40m in beautiful style. Exactly one year later, we got the opportunity to purchase him and he came home with us in August.”
Sunday of Desert Circuit IX, Estimated Prophet capped off an incredible season with a win in the Callidae 3’6” Junior Hunter Classic and championship honors in the 3’6” Junior Hunters with Avery Glynn aboard.
The horse is owned by Roaring Fork Farms, and Djuna Lauder, who rides with Balmoral, will continue to show Estimated Prophet in the Junior Hunters.
“Djuna was with me the first day we saw him,” Brooks recalled. “We had been talking about that horse and brought him up every once in a while. They knew it probably wasn’t going to be a grand prix horse and it was better suited for the hunters becaues of its character. We were in the right place at the right time.”
The transition from jumpers to hunters was an easy one for Estimated Prophet, who took to the hunters quite naturally.
“It was so natural for him because that’s how he wants to go,” Brooks continued. “He has such a great temperament and is quiet and brave. The first person to show him was actually Carleton. He actually came out of retirement – his eighth retirement – to show that horse for the first time. He showed in September and then Nick [Haness] showed him in the Green Conformation at Harrisburg and was champion.”
Desert Circuit has really given Estimated Prophet a chance to shine and come into his own, taking wins in the two USHJA International Hunter Derbies he’s entered with Haness aboard, plus a top ribbon in the $100,000 WCHR West Coast Hunter Spectacular.
“He’s gotten better and better every week, every class,” Brooks remarked. “He understadnds his job and has such an affinity for hit. His jump, scope, and bravery just checks all the boxes. Every time we’ve given him a challenge he’s risen to it. We can’t ask for any more from him. He’s given us 110%.”
Up next for Estimated Prophet is the Devon Horse Show, where Lauder will compete in the Junior Hunters, then an exciting summer of showing prior to USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships in Lexington, KY.
Until then, the Balmoral team will be cheering on Estimated Prophet. “He has his own little fan club. He’s a community horse because people come to the ring to watch him now and root for him. He has risen to the occasion for us all the time,” Brooks concluded.
Avery Glynn wasn’t done winning Saturday night, clearly. On Sunday, aboard Day Won, she was named Grand WCHR 3’6″ Champion, WCHR High Score Junior Hunter, and WCHR Grand Champion of the show.
Glynn with Day Won and Nicole Bourgeois with McQueen tied for Grand Champion Trip of the Show on a score of 90.
Irene Neuwirth and Coconut Grove were the 3’3” Amateur-Owner Hunter WCHR Grand Champions and the WCHR High Score 3’3” Amateur-Owner.
Caroline Ingalls and Concerto won the WCHR 3’6” Grand Champion, while Ashley Wieman and Grand Romance won the Amateur-Owner 3’6” WCHR High Score.