Equestrian: Superb O'Connor proves Dubai star
Cian O'Connor scooped the leading rider trophy at the Three-Star International Show at the Dubai International Equestrian Club in the UAE over the weekend when scoring a double of wins and claiming fifth place in Saturday's World Cup qualifier.
The 31-year-old Meath rider jumped out of the starting blocks with victory in Friday's Gulf News Cup, which decided the starting order for Saturday's World Cup event.
And, once again riding the recently purchased Irish-bred Larkhill Cruiser, he finished fifth in the World Cup competition won by Saudi sensation Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, who sprang a huge surprise when taking the individual silver medal at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last October.
The top 10 went into the second round in Saturday's World Cup class and O'Connor made the cut when lowering only the last fence on the first-round track.
His second-round clear in 48.42 seconds ensured a good final placing with the 10-year-old chestnut gelding, bred by Brian McAuley from Seven-Mile-Straight in Antrim, which he acquired in December from Navan man John Floody, who enjoyed enormous success with the horse on the Irish circuit over the last few seasons.
Runner-up in the World Cup class was Egypt's Ahmed Tolba riding Splendor, which was formerly campaigned by O'Connor.
The Irishman scored a win with the horse during the Christmas Show at Olympia in London last month on their final outing together. Tolba is a pupil of O'Connor, who will be holding training clinics in the Gulf region over the next few weeks as he continues to campaign on the Arab League circuit.
The Leading Rider title was secured by a clear-cut victory in Saturday's Accumulator.
Partnering the Irish-bred Heartbreaker mare Arabella, which he co-owns with Mary Hughes, O'Connor pipped Saudi Arabia's Khalid Al Eid in this one when scorching home more than three seconds faster than the 2000 Olympic bronze medallist.
"It was a great start here in Dubai to have two wins and to take the Leading Rider title. Also, I was delighted with the way Splendor jumped in the Grand Prix for Ahmed. This was the perfect start to the Gulf Tour," O'Connor said yesterday.
O'Connor now heads for the international fixture in Abu Dhabi next weekend.
On Friday at the Two-Star International in Zuidbroek, the Netherlands, Conor Drain gave a good account of himself when finishing fourth in the Grand Prix qualifier.
The talented 18-year-old from Ballymena produced two clear rounds and steered Wilco B home just over two seconds slower than German winner Peer Zilke, riding Qantina.
However, yesterday he was out of luck in the Grand Prix, with two mistakes keeping him well down the line-up.
Meanwhile, Irish team member Shane Breen has made a good recovery from a nasty accident suffered just before Christmas.
The 36-year-old rider from Cashel, who is married to a daughter of the late Douglas Bunn and lives at the premier British venue in Hickstead, fell from a balcony in a converted barn at the Sussex estate just before Christmas and suffered a broken jaw and fractured skull.
However, he is targeting a return to the international show jumping arena in Amsterdam later this month.
Irish show jumpers are purposefully marching into the 2011 season with three in the top 11 on the latest Rolex World Rankings list -- Billy Twomey in seventh, Denis Lynch in ninth place and Jessica Kuerten in 11th.