McLain Ward did it again for their second straight win. Jose Maria Larocca of Argentina finished third and US Bezzie Madden fifth. (Photo by CsioRoma-MProli)
When it comes to speed riding the Americans are some of the most fearless in the sport, and today McLain Ward showed the skill and accuracy that have kept him at the top of the game for many years now when posting his second win of the week with HH Carlos Z in the Engel & Vokers Palm Beach, Florida with Intesa SanPaolo Small Grand Prix at Piazza di Siena. This was no easy victory, because amongst the 22 who qualified to go against the clock were his American counterparts Beezie Madden riding the great Cortes C and Laura Kraut with her Olympic ride Cedric.
Ward’s biggest rival however turned out to be Italy’s double-Olympian Gianni Govoni riding the unlikely speed merchant Antonio. While Ward’s neat, athletic 14-year-old Carlos is custom-made for going against the clock, Govoni’s 11-year-old gelding stands a colossal 1.75cms high which would suggest his turning skills might be somewhat compromised. Not so however, as the big bay proved when lining up second this evening.
Madden threw down the gauntlet when setting the jump-off pace with a picture-perfect run with Cortes that stopped the clock in 38.99 seconds. That always looked beatable but it would still be good enough for fifth spot at the end of the day.
Ward took the lead when sixth to go, and his time of 34.78 seconds would never be seriously threatened, Carlos responding to every move of his rider’s body as they steered the tightest possible line all the way around the track.
Ward talked afterwards about his plan for the second round. “In a jump-off like this with a lot of horses, I like to go early because then you don’t think about it too much, you just do your best and go as fast as you can. It’s different when there are less horses through, in that case strategy kicks in and it’s better to go later if you can”, he explained.
And asked why he thought so many horse-and-rider combinations made the cut into the deciding round today he pointed out, “there are so many top riders here and a lot who didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix decided to give this class a shot – the prize-money is good and the course designer can’t do much else with the fences. The rule is 1.50m and he can’t build bigger than that and these are some of the best horses in the sport so a lot of them are going to jump clear.”
Govoni was second-last to go and kept the spectators on the edges of their seats when galloping the jump-off course at a relentless pace with Antonio. Asked afterwards about this horse’s speed capacity despite his size, Govoni said, “yes he’s very big but he’s very fast!” He has only had Antonio for six months, but they are quickly cementing an excellent relationship. “Already we have finished third in the Italian Championship”, Govoni pointed out.
Talking about their progress together he continued, “when I got him first he was hard to work with because he was quite aggressive – he has a lot of blood, maybe a bit too much! – but now we are both feeling really confident with each other.”