America’s McLain Ward threw down a super-confident victory in the Loro Piana Grand Prix at Piazza di Siena today with HH Azur. On form all week and looking competitive from the outset again today, he produced one of just seven clear rounds over Uliano Vezzani’s tough first-round track and then showed a spectacular turn of foot in the second round to clinch it.
In a competition filled with drama and surprises, it was Sweden’s Peder Fredricsson who lined up second with H&M All In, while Ward’s compatriot, Laura Kraut, clinched third spot with Zeremonie.
Fredricsson posted the first clear of the competition with his 10-year-old stallion on a day when the 13-fence course defeated many other top horse-and-rider combinations. The bogey fence of the day was the water-tray vertical that followed the open water at fence five, but amongst the many who didn’t make the cut as the top-13 returned in the second round were some of the firm favourites.
World and European double-gold medallist, The Netherlands’ Jeroen Dubbeldam, retired when his top horse, Zenith, had two fences down on a very lacklustre tour of the track. Vezzani tested the rider’s judgement every step of the way, with the line from the white plank at fence six to the following triple combination of oxer to vertical to oxer also taking a heavy toll. But for some it was the penultime double of skinny plank verticals that proved their undoing with home in sight.
Ward’s winning run was sixth from the end of the competition and his time of 40.45 seconds looked near-impossible to beat. Dutchman Jur Vrieling and Zirocco Blue faulted this time out at the big final oxer but Kraut had every reason to be pleased when clear in 45.39 seconds.
Fredricsson however broke the beam in 42.05 to slot in behind Ward with a round that must be stirring the hearts of Swedish supporters.
A nasty fall for the penultimate partnership of Marco Kutscher and Van Gogh brought the competition to a temporary halt. The German rider left the ring by ambulance with a suspected shoulder and back injury, and, last man in, World No. 1 rider Simon Delestre from France had a 15-minute delay before he could take his turn with the brilliant little Hermes Ryans. A pole down put paid to their chances however and he had to settle for sixth spot behind America’s Kent Farrington in fifth and German star, Marcus Ehning, in fourth with Cornado.
A delighted Ward said afterwards – “this was not the best round I’ve ever done but the horse makes up for my mistakes and I’m very happy!”
Tonight she jumped incredible, while I could have done better… ! There were a few points where I have been unsure and she just knew what had to be done. Sometimes this happens and that’s when you know a horse like this makes the difference. The course presented many challenges, it was very technical and it suited the level of the competition. I think Uliano Vezzani is one of the three best chef de piste in the world, and the course was just up to the level. I am very happy and I thank my team for making the horses be so fit and nice as this gives me all the confidence to enter the arena with maximum confidence.
I saw Azur for the first time when she was five. Also Tiffany Foster had tried her and then she was at Penelope Leprevost’s stables for a while. But she has a lot of blod and was quite difficult to ride. About one and a half years ago, my owners asked me to go and see the horse again and from there on the story is know. I think it’s a dream to ride a horse like this, she’s phenomenal.