North Salem, NY - Sometimes it is good to have friends in the right places, and for Conor Swail, a friendship with Ilan Ferder has resulted in the ride on his now top mount Viva Colombia. The Irish athlete piloted the 10-year-old mare to victory in the $85,000 American Gold Cup Qualifier CSI4* presented by Windsor Show Stables. The pair bested a 14-horse jump-off, beating second place finisher Ali Wolff on Casall and third place finisher Peter Lutz on Robin de Ponthual by half a second.
Fifty-eight entries tried to qualify for the tiebreaker by clearing Alan Wade's track on the Grand Prix Field at Old Salem Farm. Out of the first 12 entries, eight were clear, but as the event continued the rails started to fall; only six other riders would advance to the jump-off.
As the second to return, Venezuela's Andres Rodriquez set the fastest pace of the day with SF Ariantha, owned by Robert and Sofia Castro. They stopped the clock at 42.08 seconds, but they would only finish sixth when they lowered the height of one of the fences for four faults.
Kirsten Coe had the first clear round on Ferder's California, but she opted to be more conservative, finishing in a time of 46.28 seconds to place fourth. The next athlete in the ring was Swail with Viva Colombia, and he used the mare's big stride to cover the field and take advantage of the long gallops. They broke the beam at 44.59 seconds to set the winning pace.
"I felt that the course suited my mare because you needed to cover a lot of ground," said Swail. "She's big mover, but she's not the fastest. She's a bit slow in the air - a lot of scope. It sort of suited me that I was able to land and run and try to cover as much ground as quickly as possible."
Two rounds later, Katie Dinan and Amaretto D'Arco, owned by Grant Road Partners, would have the next clear round, but they would also be the slowest of the day for fifth place in 48.50 seconds. Ali Wolff laid it on the line with Blacklick Bend Farm's Casall and came very close to catching Swail's time when she cleared each obstacle with the 10-year-old chestnut gelding. Just a fraction off the pace, they tripped the timers at 45.17 seconds for the second place award.
"I always go in with a mindset of doing my own course and going at my own pace," commented Wolff. "In the jump-off I just made sure to go my own speed." Wolff laughed adding, "Trying to beat Conor is almost near impossible!" Wolff continued, "I've had Casall for about three years, and we've worked slowly up through the ranks. He's just turned out to be such an amazing horse. I think a lot of it is due to his big heart."
Peter Lutz stepped on to the field next with Robin de Ponthual, owned by Katherine Gallagher and M. Michael Meller. They were also after the win, but a small slip in one of the rollbacks cost them just a moment on the clock to finish in a clear 45.18 seconds, just 1/100th of a second behind Wolff for third place.
"Robin has a very large stride, and I just took advantage of that," noted Lutz. "Unfortunately, he slipped a little. I think I lost a little second there, but then he recovered quickly; I just flew to the end. He was great.
Lutz added, "I felt very confident coming in to this class. I just did the Hampton Classic last week and had the last jump down, but he jumped it easily so it was a great show to be coming from with a similar setting on the grass. I feel really confident with him. We've really gotten to know each other lately."
For Swail, Friday's victory solidifies a partnership he has been working on for the last six months with Viva Columbia. "Ilan is a good friend of mine, and he gave me the mare with a few weeks left in Florida, so I rode her there for the first time," he explained. "We're kind of finding our feet with each other and building a good relationship. Viva is my top horse at the moment." Coe originally rode Viva Columbia, but Swail took over the reins when they found the mare was "more of a man's ride."
"You have to sort of be strong at times, and I would say she's a little heavy and downhill, so you need to have strength," continued Swail. "She wants to be really careful, and she has a lot of scope and power. She also has a lot of good quality, which all horses need."
At the end of the day, two more riders were honored with special presentations. Laura Kraut earned the Horse & Style, Style of Riding Award, while Andres Rodriquez was given the Equis Boutique's "Best Presented Horse" honors.