McLain Ward and HH Azur. (Photo © Ben Radvanyi Photography).
Three-time U.S. Olympic medalist McLain Ward of Brewster, NY, claimed his fourth consecutive win in the $130,270 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto on Wednesday, November 9, at the CSI4*-W Royal Horse Show, held as part of the 94th Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, ON.
Ward produced the only double clear effort of the night to top a five-horse jump-off riding HH Azur, his 2016 Olympic silver medal mount. Ward and the ten-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui) owned by Double H Farm and Francois Mathy bested a starting field of 22 horses over tracks set by course designer Bernardo Cabral of Portugal to claim victory.
“This venue has been very good to me, so it’s like coming home,” said Ward, 41, who is currently ranked number three on the Longines World Rider rankings. “When you have a horse like Azur, it makes life a lot easier and you just try to stay out of her way. She is normally giving a great performance, and every once in a while, I don’t mess it up.”
Ward returned second to last over the short course in front of more than 6,000 spectators who filled the Ricoh Coliseum in downtown Toronto. With those before him all incurring faults, the door was wide open for Ward to claim the win, which he secured with a flawless effort in 36.02 seconds. Ward’s Rio Olympic teammate Kent Farrington, currently ranked fourth in the world, delivered an incredibly fast time of 35.19 seconds. Unfortunately, a rail down at the final fence left him in second place riding Creedance.
“I was really happy with my horse,” said Farrington, 35, who now sits comfortably at the top of the North American Eastern Sub-League by nearly 30 points. “Creedance is nine years old and he doesn’t have very much experience indoors; this is his third show inside and he’s coming on well. I have had him since he was seven and this year he stepped up to a higher level so he hasn’t seen much at international shows, but I think he has a bright future in the sport.”
Ward and Farrington were joined in the top three by 2016 Olympic champions Nick Skelton and Big Star, owned by Oliver Robertson and Gary and Beverly Widdowson. As the first pair back for the jump-off, Skelton and the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion had a rail down for four faults in a time of 37.26 seconds.
“This is only his fourth show indoors,” said Skelton, 58, of Big Star, who carried him to a team gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics before scoring individual gold in Rio. “I wouldn’t say that indoors is really his forte, but I was very pleased with him. When you go first, you have to try to put up a decent enough time when you have these guys coming behind you, but it didn’t work out tonight.”
Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, 35, finished fourth riding Chaqui Z, owned in partnership with Spy Coast Farm, LLC, with a four-fault effort in a time of 37.49 seconds. Rounding out the top five was Canada’s own Mac Cone of King City, ON, piloting Gasper van den Doorn for Mark Samuel’s Chadburn Holdings, Inc. The 2008 Olympic team silver medalist picked up eight faults in the jump-off to take fifth.
“I think as far as indoor horse shows go, The Royal is as good as anywhere,” said Cone, 64, of competing on home soil. “It has great tradition with great crowds, and look at this group of riders; you can’t get better competition than this!”
Wednesday evening’s event marked the second year that the Royal Horse Show hosted the $130,270 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto, one of only four Canadian events included in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League. The class offered valuable points towards qualifying for the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final to be held from March 29 to April 2 in Omaha, Nebraska.
“The World Cup is very important to me this year in our home country,” said Ward who made a last-minute horse substitution for The Royal after a minor injury sidelined his planned ride, HH Carlos, just days before coming to Toronto. “I felt that Azur could handle coming here and jumping a couple of classes to try to make sure that I had enough points.”
Ward was awarded a Longines DolceVita watch for Wednesday’s victory which he plans to present to the groom who prepared HH Azur for competition at The Royal.
“I have an unbelievable group of people behind me and I try to win enough to spread the wealth around a little bit,” said Ward. “Everybody is a part of our success and should share in the spoils. It’s a beautiful prize, and it’s always nice to be able to share that with them and make someone really feel pride in what they contributed.”
Commenting on the course that led him to victory, Ward said, “We should thank Bernardo. He built a beautiful course tonight and to have these horses come through to the jump-off really shows that it was an appropriate test and very well done. We always appreciate when the course designer gets it right.”
Cabral noted, “Building courses for these guys is fantastic and I am privileged. I don’t have to do much because their talent speaks for itself. I just put a few fences out, do some tests, but they are the real stars. Experience tells us that if you build with this field, it doesn’t need to be too big. It needs to be very delicate, very rider demanding but not very horse demanding, and the cream rises to the top as these riders did.”
Charlie Johnstone, CEO of The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, spoke to the importance of the Royal Horse Show being part of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League, saying, “We are thrilled to have the Longines World Cup Jumping in Toronto. The Royal has a long tradition and history of world-class events. To have an event of this status and to have these gentlemen and their horses here participating and putting on such a world-class event in Toronto really is what The Royal is all about. As we move forward, we want to continue this partnership. It’s been great for the event and for our fans.”
Source: Press release from jumpmediallc.com