Wellington, Fla. – Feb. 8, 2018 – The ever-talented partnership between two-time Olympic Gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) and the incredible HH Azur (Thunder Vd Zuuthoeve x Sion Vd Zuuthoeve) was once again put on display as they bounced back in full force to win the $132,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round V. The mare had some time off, resting after showing at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping in Toronto, Canada, but proved she never missed a beat by taking the victory during her 2018 debut.
Ward and the 2006 Belgian Warmblood bested the group that included some of the greatest names in the sport, such as World No. 1 rider, Kent Farrington (USA), Markus Beerbaum (GER), Darragh Kenny (IRL), Laura Kraut (USA) and Cian O’Connor (IRL), to add another win to their illustrious career.
The dynamic duo vanquished the playing field of 56 competitors and produced a double-clear ride. They showed no signs of slowing down in the jump-off, blazing through the timers in 39.238 seconds that second place finishers, Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Artisan Farms and Torrey Pines Stable’s Fine Lady 5 (Forsyth Frh x Dorina), could not outdo.
HH Azur, who is owned by Double H Farm and Francois Mathy, is a familiar name in the sport, having previously won major accolades such as the FEI World Cup™ Finals held in Omaha, Nebraska in 2017 and a team silver medal finish at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Ward further proved that he is a name to be remembered as he maintains his second month ranked as World No. 3 on the Longines FEI World rankings.
The 1.50m course was designed by Kelvin Bywater of Great Britain and featured 13 obstacles in the first round with a time-allowed of 77 seconds. A total of 19 riders went clear, but only 16 opted to try their hand in the jump-off.
Lamaze, known by some as “Mr. Challenge Cup” after he recently nabbed his 25th WEF Challenge Cup victory two weeks ago, finished the short course in 39.940 seconds. Margie Engle (USA) and Gladewinds Farm, Inc.’s Royce (Cafe Au Lait x Petula) came in third place after putting 40.756 seconds on the clock.
Jumper competition in the International Arena will continue on Friday morning at 8 a.m. with the $2,500 High Amateur Owner Jumpers, followed by the highlight class of the day, the FEI CSI5* $35,000 Bainbridge 1.45m Classic, and then the FEI 2* $35,000 Equiline Classic.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
McLain Ward – $132,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round V Winner
On his plan:
“We wanted to compete a little bit. She’s had a nice, long rest. It’s great prize money, and I feel that the best way to get her back on her game and get her fit at this level to where I want it by the end of the circuit is to compete a little bit without doing anything insane. She needs to be in the groove.”
On HH Azur’s first time back:
“She hasn’t shown since Toronto. We did a couple of training sessions last week, just practicing getting her back to jumping a little bit. She knows this ring very well and I thought this class would be okay to do and she felt great. She felt strong and I think she’s just going to keep getting better and better as the show goes on. That’s the goal, at least!”
On watching Eric Lamaze (2nd place winner) go before him:
“No, but I know that she [Fine Lady 5] is a fast, fast horse. I knew if I could get the turn from 1 to 2, that it was a tough turn for a big horse because you couldn’t change your mind. I was lucky enough to see Spencer [Smith] go before me and he did eight. I thought, ‘Oh, I have to do eight then.’ Then I was able to use my stride in a few places and when things show up like that for her, she is fast. If I have to check up, that’s where a horse like Azur checks faster.”
On Kelvin Bywater’s track:
“The course was good. I thought that for the quality of horses in these 5* events now, it was maybe a little bit friendly, but I didn’t mind that, again, for my first start of the year for my mare. It actually just played right into my hand nicely that it was a nice 1.50m track to get going and knock the rust off. Now, we’re going to start to get serious.”
$132,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round V
Place / Horse / Rider / Country / R1 Faults | Time / R2 Faults | Time
1. HH Azur / McLain Ward / USA / 0 | 72.45 / 0 | 39.238
2. Fine Lady 5 / Eric Lamaze / CAN / 0 | 73.43 / 0 | 39.94
3. Royce / Margie Engle / USA / 0 | 73.3 / 0 | 40.756
4. Rivale Du Barquet / Spencer Smith / USA / 0 | 71.78 / 0 | 41.412
5. H&M Ikker / Olivier Philippaerts / BEL / 0 | 73.89 / 0 | 42.058
6. Dingeman / Santiago Lambre / MEX / 0 | 75.69 / 0 | 42.298
7. Dino / Capt. Brian Cournane / IRL / 0 | 76.14 / 0 | 48.18
8. Cool Hand Luke 4 / Markus Beerbaum / GER / 0 | 76.61 / 0 | 55.542
9. Important De Muze / Darragh Kenny / IRL / 0 | 72.61 / 4 | 41.782
10. Ladriano Z / Daniel Bluman / ISR / 0 | 75.45 / 4 | 45.834
11. Winning Good / Ben Maher / GBR / 0 | 73.8 / 4 | 46.35
12. Baltic Star 2 / Kent Farrington / USA / 0 | 72.33 / 4 | 46.639