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Ireland’s Aga Khan winning hero Conor Sowell described today’s win – his first in the famous competition – as “fantastic”.
Swail and Count Me In jumped three clear rounds during the competition and gave the home side their first win in the competition since 2015.
“It’s like my first time (beating) Shane (Sweetnam). This is my third Aga Khan,” Sowell explained. “It’s amazing. As an Irish rider it’s something that’s a lifelong goal – thankfully I’ve achieved it. The horse (Count Me In) has jumped like that all year – no wonder – he’s so fast.”
“Not a bad six days,” said Ireland team manager Michael Blake, referring to Friday’s win and Ireland’s qualification for the Paris Olympic Games earlier this week.
Claire Mann explained that she was very confident coming into today’s Longines Nations Cup of Ireland:
“Coming in here I thought we had a great chance – I felt it was ours to lose. We started really well and then had some uncharacteristic mistakes. There was a bit of pressure on us. Conor (Swail) was just amazing. He asked me if he could be in Aga Khan’s team at the beginning of the year.”
Kantork, Co Cork-native Shane Sweetnam who jumped clear in the first round with Irish sport horse James Caan Cruise, said:
“He had a special jump in the first round, especially when it was raining – he knew he was home! Then in the second round, a little mistake – obviously I did it myself.”
For a US-based rider, it was also Aga Khan’s first win:
“It’s great to win. It was my fourth Aga Khan and it’s always been a dream to win the Aga Khan, so I’m thrilled, thrilled with the horse and thrilled with my team members.”
It must have been a dream come true for eighteen-year-old Tipperary rider Max Watchman, who won the maiden Aga Khan Trophy in his first outing at the Longines Nations Cup in Ireland.
“It’s a dream come true,” Wachman said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was about ten years old. It’s amazing to be in a team with such brilliant riders. I’m just thrilled. He (Barlax Z) is eleven years old, he’s a very experienced horse and he’s a good horse and he jumped well today. gave.”
Meath’s Cian O’Connor, once again Ireland’s anchor leg rider, spoke highly of his Irish sport horse Kilkenny at the winners’ press conference.
“I was thrilled with him. I couldn’t be happier. It’s like when the bell goes and you go to the first fence in a big rhythm and it’s like he owns the ring. All I have to do is not get in his way and make mistakes. He really enjoyed walking around there.”
Winning the Aga Khan Perpetual Trophy is always special for all Irish riders. Team manager Michael Blake best summed up what it means to win the Home Nations Cup in front of the RDS crowd:
“The crowd understands the game so much and it means a lot to them and it means a lot to us. We’ve won a lot of Nations Cups but this is an extra stratosphere.”
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