Conor Swail Flies to Victory in the Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix

Conor Swail in sella a Casturano

Ireland’s Conor Swail flew to the win aboard Casturano in the $225,000 Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Callie Clement Photo (c)

Lexington, Ky., April 29, 2024— During the day on Saturday the eventers had their fun around the Kentucky Horse Park for the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian™, but Saturday night was all about the show jumpers in the $225,000 Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

Fans were treated to a fun and fierce competition in the Rolex Stadium that ended with Ireland’s Conor Swail taking the win aboard Casturano (0/40.96). Egypt’s Nayel Nassar on Igor Van De Wittemoere (0/41.48) claimed second, while the USA’s Charlotte Jacobs and Rincoola Milsean (0/42.39) placed third.

Organized by Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI), the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian (K3DE) features one of only seven annual Five Star three-day events in the world. Known as “The Best Weekend All Year,” the event annually attracts nearly 90,000 spectators who also enjoy extensive shopping, a variety of hospitality experiences and a wide array of demonstrations. In addition to the traditional CCI5-L, the event also features the Cosequin® Lexington 4 and Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

Thirty-eight horse-and-rider combinations tackled course designer Guilherme Jorge’s first-round test of 13 numbered jumps and 16 jumping efforts. After the first round had rails falling throughout the course, only six pairs moved forward to the jump-off.

Nassar and Igor Van De Wittemoere set the standard with a clean round in a speedy time of 41.48 seconds, and Jacobs and Rincoola Milsean would ultimately finish with a slightly slower clean round in a time of 42.39. Venezuela’s Luis Fernando Larrazabal and Condara had the time well in hand (40.9 seconds), but they lowered a rail at fence four to finish in fifth place.

Swail cantered in second-to-last aboard Casturano and laid down a smooth but quick round to take the lead on a faultless 40.96. The last pair in the ring, Alex Matz (USA) and Cashew CR were on track to be faster, but a downed rail dropped them into fourth on a time of 40.36. American Cathleen Driscoll, who was the jump-off pathfinder aboard Arome, finished sixth on 12 jumping faults.

“I’ve had him for around a year,” Swail said of Mannon Farm’s 11-year-old bay Holsteiner gelding. “The horse jumps clear after clear after clear, and the confidence you get from jumping a horse with so much ability and how much he’s grown over the last year, I’m very excited about him.

“If he keeps doing what he’s doing, I think he’ll end up one of the best horses in the world,” he continued. “I’m so lucky to have him, and I’m looking forward to what’s coming next with him.”

Nassar may have come second with Evergate Stables’ 16-year-old bay Belgian Warmblood gelding, but he wasn’t too broken up. “[Going into the jump-off, I knew] Charlotte is on fantastically quick horse and coming off super round yesterday, and Conor, you can never count out,” he said. “The number of times I’ve lost to this guy, I can’t even guess. But that’s the beauty of this sport, I think — it’s not over until it’s over. Conor is a favorite of mine to watch, and I can’t say [his win is] unexpected.”

Jacobs and Rincoola Milsean, North Star’s 11-year-old chestnut Irish Sporthorse gelding, started the week by winning the $35,000 Welcome Speed Cup on Friday night before returning to the podium for the Grand Prix.

“My horse felt really confident [in the speed class,] and he’s the type that the more you go, the better it is. He builds off that confidence, so I was looking forward to tonight,” Jacobs said.

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Egypt’s Nayel Nassar and Igor Van De Wittemoere jumped into second place in the $225,000 Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Callie Clement Photo
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The USA’s Charlotte Jacobs and Rincoola Milsean finished third in the $225,000 Kentucky CSI4* Invitational Grand Prix presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Callie Clement Photo

All three riders waxed poetic about the experience of riding in the stadium before a crowd of 10,712 enthusiastic fans.

“It’s a fantastic show, and the organizers put on an incredible event,” Jacobs said. “I was able to watch some of the three-day event today, and that was really cool. Tonight was next level; it’s not often we get crowds like that in our sport, so it’s great.”

“I thought it was awesome, so cool,” Nassar said. “You don’t get many opportunities to jump in front of crowds like that. It’s really special and is going to stay on our calendar for a while. I’m super looking forward to next year.”

Next year, there will be some additional changes to the Kentucky Invitational, as according to EEI executive director Erin Woodall, the competition hopes to become a CSI5. “The application and other paperwork are done, and we are pending a CSI5 designation for next year,” she said.

Derek Braun, who helped found the competition and is also the organizer of the Split Rock Jumping Tour, says there will be some adjustments to the format as a 5* requires a minimum of four classes. There were three this year to accommodate the Invitational’s new 4* level, and he’s confident the competition will only grow.

“We’ve proven that this is the winning formula for this event,” he said. “Putting a grand prix on cross-country day was always the idea from the beginning — to align with the biggest three-day event in North America and hopefully create the biggest show jumping event as well.

“Everybody at EEI and this team’s goal is to make the best grand prix in America,” he added. “Bringing it to the 5* level, it will naturally become that without a doubt. There is nowhere else for a crowd and atmosphere like this; it gives me chills when you hear the crowd stomping and cheering.”

Fonte press release Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

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