Rough ride to Canada for Irish showjumpers

 

IRELAND's show-jumpers defend their Canadian Nations Cup title at the five-day Spruce Meadows fixture in Calgary this weekend, but the team has already suffered changes from the squad that scored here 12 months ago.

Trevor Coyle and Cruising jumped in Calgary last year and were part of the winning teams at Dublin and Aachen. But the stallion's owner Mary McCann stated from the outset that her horse would not be available for Olympic selection and it was felt in some quarters that Cruising should not be named for the Canadian trip, even though they were on the winning team in Rotterdam last month.

Coyle and Cruising were initially, and somewhat controversially, announced as part of the Calgary squad on the final day of the Dublin Horse Show, but the stallion was then withdrawn later that day. Jessica Chesney, who made her Olympic debut in Atlanta last month, was drafted into the team but she, too, has pulled out of the Canadian fixture as her horse St Ludwigs Diamond Exchange is said to be suffering from a foot abscess.

Army rider Commandant Gerry Mullins now makes up the quartet with fellow officer Captain John Ledingham and the two Olympians, Eddie Macken and Peter Charles, but both civilians have had trouble getting to Calgary. Macken, who was due to fly out from Frankfurt on Monday morning, found his plane overbooked and had to remain in Germany waiting for a later flight. He eventually arrived in Canada late on Monday night, but Peter Charles was less fortunate.

The European champion had been booked to take a midday flight out of Heathrow on Monday but missed the plane. He tried to check in for the same flight 24 hours later but was refused and has now been rerouted via Toronto. However, Charles is expected to arrive in Calgary in time for the first international class, which is due to start in Spruce Meadows at 12.30 p.m.

Ireland's representation has been boosted with the addition of two individual riders Damien Gardiner, who was part of the team in Atlanta, and Cork's Robert Splaine, who is expected to feature in the speed classes with his Hickstead Speed Grand Prix winner Convent Hill Diamond and also rides the Duchess of York's horse Ballymoss in the main events.

The Spruce Meadows fixture boasts the richest prize fund in the world, with 300,000 Canadian dollars (£135,000) on offer in Saturday's Bank Of Montreal Nations Cup and an incredible $725,000 for the du Maurier Grand Prix on Sunday. Michael Whitaker scooped the lion's share of the du Maurier purse 12 months ago and this year's winner will be going home with a cheque for $230.000.

The Nations Cup has attracted seven teams and the Irish will be faced with a strong challenge in their bid to retain the 1995 title. But the German squad is minus Olympic champion Ulrich Kirchhoff, whose gold medal horse Jus de Pomme died in a Germany veterinary clinic last month after anaesthesia from two colic operations brought on a fatal heart attack. Kirchhoff had announced even before Atlanta that he would not be travelling to Calgary, which clashes with a major German national young horse championship in Warendorf.