Shane Sweetnam (IRL) may have been born in Cork (IRL), but for more than a decade, he’s held a summer residence in Lexington (USA), directly adjacent to the Kentucky Horse Park. That made a win in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Lexington, held in the venue’s Alltech Arena, especially meaningful.
Besting an 11-horse jump-off with his family in attendance, Sweetnam recorded a long-awaited win in the class, which also marked his first World Cup victory. His winning partner was the sensational 10-year-old James Kann Cruz, who crossed the timers of fellow Irishman Alan Wade’s short course in an uncatchable 33.41 seconds.
Defending champion Daniel Bluman (ISR) finished second with Gemma W, marking Bluman’s third consecutive year on the podium in the National Horse Show’s feature class. Devin Ryan (USA) finished third with Eddie Blue, after the pair held the same position a week ago in Washington (USA).
“To win this class is a big deal. For me, it was always one of the ones I wanted to win,” said Sweetnam.
Sweetnam caught plenty of air in the first round, as James Kann Cruz showed off his brilliant power and scope. In the jump-off, that could have cost valuable time on the clock, but it also allowed Sweetnam to take more risks in his track. The pair returned fourth in an 11-horse jump-off and set themselves apart with a pair of left-out strides and a bold turn back to the combination toward the end of the course. When James Kann Cruz slipped, it left the horse not even a stride to judge the fence. Still, he cleared it with ease.
“I felt that there were a lot of fast riders, good riders behind me. Honestly, when I came out of the ring, I was thinking I still might not have done enough,” Sweetnam said. “I definitely wasn’t sure I had the win, but I really did as much as I could in the ring.
“We slipped a little bit going into the double, and [James Kann Cruz] had to show how amazing he was. That wasn’t planned, but it just shows how talented he is.”
James Kann Cruz has always had the makings of a championship mount, and he contributed to a silver medal-winning effort for Ireland at the 2023 European Championships (ITA). Navigating jump-offs at speed has been the next part of the gelding’s development.
“Practice makes perfect. I’d say if you watch my rounds now compared to what they were this time last year, the jump-offs are a lot faster,” Sweetnam said. “Yes, he does spend a lot of time in the air, but obviously, that’s a help. He’s a very smart horse. The more he does it, the smarter he gets…. He’s looking for the next jump, which he hadn’t really this time last year. It’s still a work in progress.
“I still think there’s more room there for us to go to another level,” he added.
Sweetnam walked the course with his son Collin, and his wife Ali and daughters Olivia and Lucy were in attendance at the event. All are involved in the sport as athletes or coaches.
“All of us are very keen,” Sweetnam said. “It’s great to have that, because we have that together. When there’s success or when there’s ups and downs, we’re there together, and we learn from them, and we keep moving forward.”
Ryan’s consistency moved him to the top of the NAL standings with 30 points, while Sweetnam slotted into second with 28 points. Alise Oken (USA) sits third with 25 points.
by Catie Staszak