McLain Ward and HH Azur. (Photo © Spruce Meadows Media Service).
USA’s McLain Ward and HH Azur emerged victorious in an exciting battle to the finish for Friday night’s $35,000 RBC Capital Markets Cup at Spruce Meadows ‘National’ Tournament CSI 5*, presented by Rolex. Also competing on Friday, Hardin Towell (USA) and Emilie de Diamant AS topped the $35,000 Encana Cup 1.45m.
The ‘National’ Tournament is the first in five weeks of competition during this year’s Summer Series at Spruce Meadows. Riders will vie for nearly $1.2 million in prize money throughout the week, with competition concluding on Sunday, June 7. The highlight event will be the $400,000 RBC Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, on Saturday, June 6. Other features include the $60,000 TransCanada Parcours de Chasse on Saturday and the $210,000 CNOOC Nexen Cup 1.50m Derby on Sunday.
Italy’s Uliano Vezzani (ITA) set the course for the $35,000 RBC Capital Markets Cup, a 1.50m competition held in a winning round format. Twenty-eight entries started over the first round course, and the top ten then returned for a second round. In round two, only two riders were able to clear the course without fault.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward earned victory with the fastest double clear in 40.12 seconds riding a talented young mount in Double H Farm and Francois Mathy’s HH Azur. Tiffany Foster (CAN) followed with Torrey Pines and Artisan Farms LLC’s Victor in 40.378. Conor Swail (IRL) completed the fastest round in 39.36 seconds, but incurred four faults along the way, to place third aboard Susan and Ariel Grange’s Grafton.
Ward has high hopes for HH Azur, a nine-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui) that he began riding this winter. The partnership came together thanks to a co-ownership between Francois Mathy and Double H Farm’s Hunter Harrison, and as soon as they began competing together the potential became quickly apparent.
“So many things had to happen for me to end up with this horse, it is incredible,” Ward detailed. “I tried her as a five-year-old and did not buy her. Several other top riders for one reason or another had a chance at her, and it did not happen and it came back around. It really makes you wonder that things are meant to be. We ended up buying her in December. Mr. Harrison bought half of her from Francois. Francois is a horse dealer, so by nature he normally would not stay owner of a horse like this, but he is so excited about the horse and we have such a close relationship. I think he really wanted to enjoy the sport, so that is something incredibly special for me. We came to Florida, and with quarantine we started a little bit late and took it slow. She came on very strong at the end and since then has not lost pace.”
“I think she is an absolutely incredible horse,” Ward declared. “It is really exciting for me. The two owners of this horse are people who are in every way role models for me and parent-like figures in my life. They are people who have really done a lot for the sport, and to come across a talent like this and be able to develop her and try to go to some of the greatest places in the sport is really exciting. The horse is like a machine. It does not matter what you do, she solves the problem and comes out ahead.”
On Friday night for example, HH Azur slipped in a tight turn during the second round, but kept it together and carried on to win the competition. A little luck was also on her side as several very fast competitors were still to follow, but ended up with faults.
“She is a phenomenal talent and she has jumped beautifully here all week,” Ward said of their start to the summer. “We had a great double clear last night in the 1.55m and she jumped well again tonight. I tried to be fast in the jump-off, but not do anything crazy. I do not want to do anything extreme at this point in her career, but I wanted to do enough to put a little pressure on. We were lucky that the likes of Conor and Eric (Lamaze) had a fence down.”
In just several months, Ward has been impressed with HH Azur’s development and sees big things for her future.
“When we got her you could see all the parts there, but she is a big blood horse and she is sensitive,” he noted. “In some ways it actually reminds me of Sapphire. She has to learn to control her stride and that, already in four months, has been unbelievable progress. The horse is very intelligent and really does not seem to be phased by too much. Even tonight, she slipped coming back to that third jump and still kept her composure and powered up over the red oxer like nothing had happened. That is really her nature.”
With a good win to start the series, Ward looks forward to using the fantastic competition and world-class venue at Spruce Meadows to continue Azur’s progress this summer.
“The variety here at Spruce Meadows is frankly incredible; there is nowhere like it in the world,” Ward acknowledged. “Kent Farrington and I were talking about how blessed we are to have this in our continent and how great it is for us. Not only for the sport at the highest end, but to develop a horse and to have a horse see ten venues in one. Normally when you are producing a horse, particularly when you come to a level of show like this, there are ups and downs. What is different about Azur is that there do not seem to be many downs, which is unique. I hope that I do not mess it up and get in her way because I think this horse has a chance to be one of the great ones.”
With two wins in the first three days of the ‘National’ tournament, Ward will jump next with HH Carlos Z in Saturday’s $400,000 RBC Grand Prix, presented by Rolex. He also plans to compete in Sunday’s $210,000 CNOOC Nexen Cup 1.50m Derby.
Final Results: $35,000 RBC Capital Markets Cup 1.50m
1. $8,750 HH AZUR Belgian Warmblood / M / 9 Thunder Van de Zwohoeve x Unknown
MCLAIN WARD (USA) BREWSTER, NY Double H Farm & Francois Mathy: 0/0/40.12
2. $7,000 VICTOR Dutch Warmblood / G / 13 Elmshorn x Grandeur
TIFFANY FOSTER (CAN) SCHOMBERG, ON Torrey Pines & Artisan Farms: 0/0/40.38
3. $5,250 GRAFTON Selle Francais / S / 9 Calvaro x Vondeen CONOR SWAIL (IRL)
DARRAGH CROSS DOWN Susan & Ariel Grange: 0/4/39.36
4. $3,500 SF ARIANTHA Dutch Warmblood / M / 10 Corland x Unantha
ANDRES RODRIGUEZ (VEN) WELLINGTON, FL Olivia Cox-Fill: 0/4/39.54
5. $2,450 ROSANA DU PARK Schwaben / M / 10 Kannan x Ukase
ERIC LAMAZE (CAN) SCHOMBERG, ON Artisan Farms, LLC: 0/4/40.41
6. $1,925 GITANO Zangersheide / G / 14 Caretano Z x Concorde
FEDERICO FERNANDEZ (MEX) MEXICO CITY Federico Fernandez: 0/4/41.00
7. $1,400 WISE GUY Warmblood / / 12 Numero Uno x Goodwill
ANTONIO CHEDRAUI JR (MEX) MEXICO CITY Antonio Chedraui: 0/4/43.78
8. $1,050 HEROS DE PAPIGNIES Z Zangersheide / S / 11 Heartbreaker x Ahorn Z
KIRSTEN COE (USA) ROYAL PALM BEACH, FL Alejandro Zendejas: 0/4/44.17
9. $1,050 ALBERTO II Holstein / G / 12 Acorado x Cassini I
KARA CHAD (CAN) CALGARY, AB Stone Ridge: 0/9/45.92
10. $875 CARNAVAL Oldenburg / G / 11 Chacco Blue x Balou
PATRICIO PASQUEL (MEX) MEXICO CITY Patricio Pasquel: 0/14/52.95
11. $875 CAT BALOU Warmblood / G / 8 Unknown x Unknown
MOLLY ASHE (USA) WELLINGTON, FL Louisburg Farm: 0/73.96
12. $875 VANILLA Danish Warmblood / M / 13 Nabab de Reve x Clinton
BEEZIE MADDEN (USA) CAZENOVIA, NY Abigail Wexner: 0/74.42
Source: Spruce Meadows Media Service