Omaha, Neb. – March 31, 2017 – American fan-favorite McLain Ward continued to dominate the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final on Friday evening, claiming his second consecutive win in round two of the championship aboard the fierce HH Azur. After Thursday and Friday’s flawless performances, the pair will have the advantage of carrying 0 penalties into Sunday’s final round.
“We’re in a great position and I’ve got a great horse and great people behind me — both the owners of Azur and my team — so I’m just going to try to keep hammering away,” Ward explained. “I’m not the most emotional guy. I’m trying to keep my focus so not to get too excited. I’ve been in this position before and I just need to be focused on every jump. I’m lucky to have the experience and lucky to have a great team. Most importantly, Annie is a star so I’m just going to try to keep doing her justice.
“We all very much covet to have this victory [at World Cup Finals] in our career and it’s reserved for a very special few so this is a big deal,” continued Ward. “I am a bit disappointed about the 17 World Cups I haven’t won. I’d like to be able to stay focused and for things to fall my way a little bit. The biggest challenge for me is to keep my head right. It’s been nice to have my wife and daughter here, which always helps me. I just have to stay focused — one jump at a time.”
Following Thursday’s first round speed phase, only 34 horses and athletes were invited to participate in Friday’s next leg of the competition, which followed a typical grand prix format with a jump-off against the clock and fences set at 1.60m in height.
Course designer Alan Wade built a technical track in the tight quarters of the main arena of the CenturyLink Center, using liverpools, a triple bar, double and triple combinations, bending lines, tight rollbacks and a fragile, skinny wall to test the original starting field in the first round.
Time faults and rails were collected all over the course throughout the first half of round one, yet six were able to finish fault-free to guarantee a jump-off by the end.
Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Pret A Tout, owned by Krech Ruth and Ehning, were first to return in the jump-off and set the standard at 8 faults in 39.56 seconds. Fellow German athlete, Guido Klatte jun. and his own Qinghai also followed with 8 faults in 51.38 seconds, which would garner the teammates fifth and sixth place in the final standings.
Martin Fuchs and Baleri Luigi and C.H.C. Horses SA’s Clooney, representing Switzerland, produced the first double-clear round of the night in 44.01 seconds for fourth place.
Next, Romain Duguet of Switzerland and Christina Duguet’s Twentytwo des Biches took over the lead with another clear performance in 40.46 seconds, which would be good enough for third place at the end of the evening.
“I’m really happy,” Duguet said. “[Twentytwo des Biches] jumped better in the jump-off than the first round. I hope she stays like this for Sunday. I bought her when she was 5 years old and it was not my plan to ride her in the Final. Now she has proved she can serve us some really good rounds.”
Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Forlap, owned by Nybor Pferde GMBH and Co KG, continued the trend by also stealing the top spot from Duguet, finishing with no faults in 39.39 seconds for second place honors.
“Today was a tough course,” Wathelet explained. “We had to go a little bit for the time, but I have a horse who will fight for me. In the jump-off, I just wanted to be quick but not crazy.
“I got [Forlap] when he was 6 years old,” continued Wathelet. “We got to the top level and got good results with him. Unfortunately, I had to sell him. It was really difficult to lose him and that’s why I took the risk to get him back. He was away for two years but it was a very good present for me to get him back. He was always a special horse for me.”
The packed audience sat on pins and needles as they watched Ward return for the tiebreaker as last to go. He piloted the 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, owned by Double H Farm and François Mathy, to her third clear round of the week in Omaha and the crowd erupted with applause and a standing ovation as they stopped the timers in 36.87 seconds to claim the victory by three full seconds.
“I didn’t think the first round was a brilliant round actually,” said Ward. “I thought the horse helped me a lot. It was a little rough. The jump-off felt really good and I thought she performed beautifully. In the end, when I looked at the time, it was a little faster than I needed, but you go and you ride the best round you can every night and be in the fight until the very end. I’m pleased with the horse and I’m excited to be in a position where we’re in the mix.
“The home crowd is phenomenal,” continued Ward. “They’re so supportive and gave such an ovation. I hope it’s mainly for the horse!”
As one of the most decorated riders in American show jumping, Ward rarely credits himself for his own success.
“The situation with Azur is very special to me because of both Hunter [Harrison] and François [Mathy],” said Ward. “Both of these men are huge father-figures to me in my life. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from both of them. I think much of who I am is because of these two men. To have them both own what I consider to be the best horse I’ve ever sat on in my life is emotional enough. In different ways both have done incredible things for the sport and for many riders.
“[HH Azur] is a pretty strong, independent woman — I don’t think she needs me very much,” Ward laughed. “She’s a horse you have to keep a little bit of a handle on and keep things calm and relaxed because if she gets too up she has a big stride and can get a little bit aggressive so we have to monitor that a little bit. She tries to give you everything she has and she has a tremendous amount to give.”
On Saturday, the CenturyLink Center will host the International Omaha Grand Prix at 7 p.m. (CST) in the main arena.
The champion of the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final will be crowned on Sunday following the third and final round of the competition, which will begin at 2 p.m. (CST). At the conclusion of Friday’s second round, points were awarded to riders based on their finishes throughout the first two rounds, which were then converted into penalties that will be carried into Sunday’s final round. The third competition has two rounds, with the top 30 riders returning for the first round. The 20 best-placed riders following round one will move on to the second round and the rider with the lowest number of penalties after all three competitions will determine the overall winner.
Results: Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final II
1. McLain Ward/USA/HH Azur/0/36.87
2. Gregory Wathelet/BEL/Forlap/0/39.39
3. Romain Duguet/SUI/Twentytwo des Biches/0/40.46
4. Martin Fuchs/SUI/Clooney/0/44.01
5. Marcus Ehning/GER/Pret A Tout/8/39.56
6. Guido Klatte jun./GER/8/51.38
7. Maikel Van der Vleuten/NED/VDL Groep Verdi Tn N.O.P/1/73.95
8. Lorenzo De Luca/ITA/Ensor de Litrange LXII/1/74.57
9. Keean White/CAN/For Freedom/1/75.22
10. Denis Lynch/IRL/All Star/1/75.44
11. Sergio Alvarez Moya/ESP/Arrayan/4/70.08
12. Eric Navet/FRA/Catypso/4/70.14
13. Steve Guerdat/SUI/Bianca/4/70.57
14. Laura Kraut/USA/Zeremonie/4/70.84
15. Henrik von Eckermann/SWE/Mary Lou/4/71.64
16. Christopher Surbey/CAN/Chalacorada/4/71.74
Overall Ranking: Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final – Standings After Phase II
Rider/Country/Points from Final I/Points from Final II/Total Points/World Cup™ Penalties
1. McLain Ward/USA/38/38/76/0
2. Gregory Wathelet/BEL/34/36/70/3
3. Romain Duguet/SUI/32/35/67/4
4. Martin Fuchs/SUI/31/34/5
5. Guido Klatte jun./GER/29/32/61/7
6. Steve Guerdat/SUI/35/25/60/8
6. Henrik Von Eckermann/SWE/36/23/59/8
8. Sergio Alvarez Moya/ESP/30/27/57/9
9. Marcus Ehning/GER/22/33/55/10
10. Maikel Van Der Vleuten/NED/21/31/52/12
10. Leopold Van Asten/NED/33/19/52/12
12. Laura Kraut/USA/23/24/47/14
13. Denis Lynch/IRL/17/28/45/15
13. Simon Delestre/FRA/28/17/45/15
15. Lorenzo De Luca/ITA/14/30/44/16
15. Charlie Jacobs/USA/24/20/44/16
15. Kevin Staut/FRA/26/18/44/16
18. Sheikh Ali Al Thani/QAT/25/16/41/17
18. Nicola Philippaerts/BEL/27/15/42/17
20. Keean White/CAN/11/29/40/18
21. Christopher Surbey/CAN/15/22/37/19
22. Eric Navet/FRA/10/26/36/20
23. Gabor Szabo Jr./HUN/20/13/33/21
24. Ludger Beerbaum/GER/16/13/29/23
24. Markus Brinkmann/GER/19/11/30/23
26. Todd Minikus/USA/6/21/27/24
27. Rein Pill/EST/9/14/23/26
28. Christian Heineking/GER/8/9/17/29
29. Jamie Barge/USA/7/8/15/30
30. Jenni McAllister/USA/4/10/14/31