Conor Swail (IRL) is keen on repeating history, and he did just that on Saturday evening, topping the first international Grand Prix of the 2024 season. With Theo 160, a horse that excels in the desert, Swail raced to victory in the $117,000 U.S. Bank CSI3* Grand Prix.
It wasn’t an easy task, though. Swail was up against several top competitors come time for the jump-off, with only four jumping clear over Bernardo Costa Cabral’s (POR) track. His own student, Vanessa Mannix (CAN), led the way, Matt Archer (USA) was the final to go, and he also had to get past Karl Cook (USA) with Caracole de la Roque, a pair that has already won CSI5* grand prixs.
Cook put on the pressure, letting his mare, owned by Signe Otsby, cover the ground, setting the time to beat at 40.62 seconds. Admittedly, Swail thought he might be going for second. But Theo 160 had other thoughts, keeping his track as tidy as possible and taking fewer speed checks than Cook, coming home in 40.25 seconds and taking the lead.
“I knew I was close, but it was a beautiful round,” Swail reflected, a bit surprised when he took over the lead by a small margin. “I was so delighted with him. He does everything I ask and it’s another great win for him.
“Honestly, when Karl is in it with his good horse you’re going for second place most of the time,” Swail remarked of how he felt going in for the jump-off following Cook. “I did feel that my guys can run. It was very important I got one to two in the seven strides, and I got down [the next line] in the nine. I think that’s where I had time on Karl. His round he had to balance a little more.”
Cook ended up in second with Caracole de la Roque, and Mannix took third with Carmela Z, as the third of three double clears.
Swail has been partnered with the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding since 2021, and together they’ve racked up countless titles across the globe. He can depend on Theo to be there for him no matter the class, the fence height, or the competition they’re up against.
“He’s just such a great little athlete and I think the two of us know each other relaly well now so were very in tune with each other,” he reflected. “I know I can take what risks I’m going to take and I know he’s going to hep me out, so I take big risks.”
Swail has spent the last few seasons competing avidly at DIHP, and this season he’s ooptd to stay out west and forego Wellington, aiming his string of horses at the various levels from National through CSI4*.
“There are still seven weeks left so i am trying to give myself a good opportunity to win each grand prix,” he said of his plan through the end of Desert Circuit. “I’m lucky enough I have three or four very good horses so we’lll be changing them around and swapping each week. Hopefully I can get good results and the horses are jumping ewll. That’s what I’m looking for.”
As the competition only gets fiercer, Swail will surely remain a top contender regardless of the horse he sits on.
See full results from the $117,000 U.S. Bank CSI3* Grand Prix here.
Shawn Casady and Cool Quarz Conquer $40,000 Bridgeport Farms Grand Prix
Shawn Casady knew the moment he sat on Cool Quarz that he was a cool dude. The horse jumped FEI World Cup Finals in April with Donatas Janciauskas of Lithuania, then came to Morning Star Sporthorses, where owner Karrie Rufer placed him with Casady beginning in November. They’ve racked up big results already, taking the win in Saturday’s $40,000 Bridgeport Farms Grand Prix.
“We’ve just gone right into the ring and gotten to know each other,” Casady said of his relationship so far with Cool Quarz. “We had success right off the bat. Our first show was back in November and did the 1.40m on the last Sunday, then the National Grand prix the first week in December. Then he jogged the five-star the second week and he was third [in the Grand Prix].”
Despite not being partnered for too long, Casady and Cool Quarz put in a stellar performance in Saturday afternoon’s class. They were one of only three pairs to jump clear over Bernardo Costa Cabral’s course, and ended up as the only double-clear effort in the end. Elizabeth Simpson was second with Catomy M, also winning the Surrey U25, and Conor Swail took third with Nadal Hero & DB.
“It’s happened really quickly, but he’s 12 so he’s had experience,” Casady continued of getting to know the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Quarz x San Patrignano Cassini). “He’s jumped all over the world. He’s brave, he’s scopey, he’s careful. It’s exactly what you need to go in and do it. It’s been fun.”
It was almost fate that put Casady and “Frank” together, and may not have happened in the same way had Casady not spent a week hanging out in the area where Rufer’s home base is.
“I stayed an extra week in Sacramento after the World Cup and played golf with Kevin [Winkel],” Casady shared. “I just hung out and Karrie texted me to come to her barn. She had me get on the horse. I picked up the canter and was like, ‘Oh my god’. He’s so rhythmical and loose. It’s amazing. Then you get to the jump and he slinks over it. Immediately I thought, ‘I could have a lot of fun riding this one.’”
There is quite a team behind Morning Star Sporthorses, especially now that Rufer is expecting her first child and not competing with the horses she’d typically be in the ring on. Casady is enjoying every minute of being part of the team, soaking up the success and the expertise surrounding him.
“It’s so cool to get to work with Karrie, Kevin, and Gregory [Wathelet],” he shared. “Everybody has a lot of respect for each other but we have a lot of experience between all of us so we can bounce off ideas and get a lot out of it. The whole Morning Star team is a top-notch program. It’s very comforting going in the ring knowing you have all that behind you. It makes a big difference.”
Up next, Frank will jump the higher level once again, then they’ll take it easy throughout the middle of the circuit before gearing up again.
“The plan is to do the four-star next week and then we’ll build up to the last two weeks again,” Casady explained. “He doesn’t need to jump too much. He’s been here since November so we don’t want to wear it out because it’s a lot of the same stuff. It’s an experienced horse so it’s nice to have him a little fresh. Now I just have to not get complacent.”
Casady rides a wide variety of horses, from this level down to the up-and-coming young horse level. With several exciting mounts amongst the levels, he’s destined to find success during Circuit, but is also still always on the hunt for the next thing.
“It changes by the day,” he said of his current string. “Right now this is the one I focus on the most. I ride Castelissimo for Tiffany Sullivan. I have a couple young horses I’ll start working with soon. We’ll just see. I’m always looking for horses but I’m busy enough.”
Show jumping continues Sunday, the final day of Desert Circuit 3, presented by U.S. Bank, with the $25,000 Marshall & Sterling 1.40m Open Classic and the $32,000 Pegasus Show Stables CSI3* 1.45m Classic.
Gable Gering and Addison Durrett Top CPHA Foundation Medal
Gable Gering scored a big win Saturday afternoon as champion of Section A in the CPHA Foundation Medal, among 44 other competitors. Aboard Clio 35, she shared the spotlight with Addison Durrett and Caramelo, winners of Section B. The course presented various challenges including a trot jump and a halt immediately following it, but both riders rose to all challenges andd aced the course, taking both blue ribbons.
“I just started riding Scotty before the circuit so it’s a new ride for me,” Gering said of Clio 35. “He’s 14 years old and he’s a jumper but he also did the eq starting a year ago. His lease ended with another girl earlier this year so I’ve been riding him for the circuit.”
The CPHA Foundation Medal is one of many offered by the CPHA, and entry funds go toward the Foundation, which helps West Coast professionals in need and builds a strong community of California professional horsemen.
“It was a really fun course and I had just come from the Junior Hunter ring in the grass field warmup and the jumpers, so this was our next class,” Gering continued. “I felt like I had a lot of pace going around. It carried over from the hunters and jumpers to the eq ring. The course was very fun with a trot jump and a halt, so I had a great time going around.”
Gering had a very busy day with equitation classes on top of her Junior Hunter division and the jumpers as well, but she handled the challenge with grace, actually benefitting from the busy day and getting to switch gears quickly.
“I have the most fun when it’s like that,” she said of her busy schedule. “The hunters help me in the jumper ring and the equitation ring, and the jumpers help me in both too. They all three play off each other so going back to back to back was amazing today.”
Gering has big goals, having attended big eq finals the past two years. This time, she wants to just improve upon her results at all the respective finals.
“I’m working toward all the big eq finals,” she shared. “I’ve shown int he Maclay, the Medal, and USET the pas three yars. I did Foundation Medals last year and was seventh overall. Last year I won Maclay Regionals so I’m wanting to place now on the East Coast this year.”
As for Desert Circuit, she just plans to expand upon the current relationships she’s building in the equitation ring and put in solid rounds in all three rings.
“My goals are to stay consistent,” she reflected. “I have two brand new rides. Murphy is my other eq horse and I’m just getting to know both him and Scotty, so I want to be consistently in the ribbons and learning them. Towards the end of Circuit I have some bigger goals like the Ronnie Mutch.”
Equitation classes continue Sunday, which features the Riata Designs DIHP Adult Equitation Challenge.