Wellington, Fla. – Mar. 30, 2019 – The final and largest Saturday Night Lights grand prix of the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival brought the best of the best to the ring Saturday evening, with 40 of the circuit’s premiere partnerships vying for the top spot and the lion’s share of the prize money in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*. Boasting a large collection of accolades to his name, crowd favorite McLain Ward (USA) proved why he is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, piloting his famous partner HH Azur, co-owned by Ward and Double H Farm, to their first grand prix victory of the series to top an all-American podium.
For the final grand prix test under the lights of the series, veteran course designer Guilherme Jorge (BRA) presented exhibitors with a lofty 17-fence track that included a water complex and a number of technical lines, which yielded only eight clear rides from pairs that were able to master the pattern to qualify for the jump-off. As the thirteenth in the order of go, David Blake (IRL) and Keoki broke the long streak of penalties incurred by prior entries, exciting the crowd as the first duo to leave the full course intact for a clear ride. Forcing a jump-off as the twenty-third in the line-up, Eduardo Menezes (BRA) and H5 Quintol were next to add their names to the list, after which Lucy Deslauriers (USA) and Hester commenced a stretch of five clear trips in quick succession from Kent Farrington (USA) aboard Gazelle, Daniel Bluman (ISR) atop Ladriano Z, Laura Kraut (USA) with Confu, and Rodrigo Lambre (BRA) with the reins on Velini. One of the final contenders, 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals champions Ward and HH Azur were the last to complete the course successfully, rounding out the group of eight challengers in the jump-off.
Returning first for the 8-fence short course, pathfinders Blake and Keoki navigated the first double clean effort of the night, tripping the timers in a conservative 44.36 seconds, and were quickly surpassed by the next pair to tackle the track, Menezes and H5 Quintol, with a clear time of 39.693 seconds. The lead immediately changed hands again after Deslauriers and Hester’s speedy fault-free ride in 39.25 seconds, but former World No. 1 Farrington rode into a league all his own by maneuvering Gazelle to an even quicker foot-perfect round, tripping the timers in 37.827 seconds to eclipse the early leaders.
Bluman, Kraut and Lambre were unable to match Farrington and Gazelle’s blazing speed, and with only one pair left to ride, Farrington still held onto the top spot on the leaderboard. The final partnership left to challenge the leading pair, World No. 2 Ward saved the best for last, directing HH Azur to the most efficient jump-off track of the evening thanks to a series of tight rollbacks, slices across fences and a long gallop to the final oxer, breaking the beam in 37.42 seconds to knock Farrington from the top and capture the title honors in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*.
Less than half of a second off of the winning time, Farrington and Gazelle, the 13-year-old mare owned by Robin Parsky and Farrington, claimed the reserve position, followed by 19-year-old Deslauriers and Lisa Deslauriers’ Hester in third place overall. Prior to the evening’s festivities, Farrington held the distinction as the leading grand prix earner in terms of prize money over the course of the 12 weeks of riding, and Saturday’s results further solidified his status.
The 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival will officially conclude Sunday, with jumper competition finishing with the $50,000 Grand Prix Puissance America CSI2* and $50,000 CaptiveOne Advisors 1.50m National Grand Prix.
FROM THE WINNER’S CIRCLE
McLain Ward – $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* winner
On his reaction to winning:
“I’m really excited for Azur and all of her owners. It’s been a long road back since she was injured last summer. Obviously, she is one of the best horses in the world, and her not being fit and healthy for the World Equestrian Games was a huge disappointment to everybody involved. It is a real Testament to Dr. Tim Ober, our vet, farrier Mike Boylan and Lee McKeever and his team. They really brought this mare back to the top of the sport. Coming back this winter we have had a little bit of 4-fault-itis. I thought she jumped really great in the 5* grand prix here a few weeks ago and kind of a funny rail down, and then I made a mistake in California in the Million Dollar Grand Prix. It was nice to put it together. I think she has been in good form, but finally I put it together and didn’t make a mistake.”
On his plan for the jump-off:
“I can pretty much guess if Kent is clean how fast he went, so I don’t need to see it. I really do, with all the respect, use him as a barometer. I come into shows sometimes and think if I can beat him, I’m going to be at or near the top, and I say that with the utmost respect. The jump-off was set up well for my horse. My horse has a bigger stride than his does. I knew I could do six strides from fence two to three and I thought I could cut back on the double maybe a bit faster. The rollback didn’t show up, I was losing her to the left, and I had to add one and was kind of dealing cards, so I figured there was nothing to lose [into the last oxer]. It looked far away about six or seven strides out, but she covered it beautifully, and let’s be honest it was a half an inch. It’s a great sport and sometimes Kent is in this seat and I’m in that one, so it goes both ways.”
On planning for the class:
“A couple of times in this class I have been clear with the third horse I had in the show because two of the others got sick or hurt or something happened. The year Carlow won he was supposed to do the speed classes, and last year I was clear with Jennifer Gates’ horse, Hija [van Strokapelleken] and she was only supposed to do the WEF Challenge. It has been a little bit of the end of a long season woes, but it was always the plan to aim towards this. My original plan was to take Clinta to the World Cup Finals but unfortunately she sustained an injury so I’m skipping the World Cup. I decided not to deviate from the plan and send Azur to the World Cup. I figured stay with this because she has a long season and is still on the way back.”
Kent Farrington – second place
On his plan for the jump-off:
“[McLain and I] are great competitors and we are friends, and I know if he is coming at the end of the class that it’s going to take everything usually to win. He is on one of his best horses and one of the best horses in the world, so I tried to go as fast as I could go without being completely reckless. His horse has a bigger stride, so I thought on my rollbacks I did the maximum my horse could do. I think today’s jump off suited to a bigger-strided horse, but it was very close at the end. He had a tremendous round and it was an unbelievable effort from him and his horse.”
On Gazelle’s circuit and upcoming plans:
“My plan was not to show my more experiences horses here at WEF. I think Gazelle’s total classes jumped in six. I really tried to gear her up here for the summer in Europe, and the same with Creedance, my other experienced horse. I tried to have a light schedule with them and compete them in a big event but not use them too heavily.”
Lucy Deslauriers – third place
On her reaction to placing third:
“At the beginning of the week I was definitely a little out of practice mentally, having not been in the ring for a few weeks. I really just tried to regroup and I came back and jumped the WEF Challenge and the horse went great, and I knew it was really just up to me to stay out of his way coming into tonight. I really tried to stick to the plan and to do everything I could, and I knew he would be right there with me and he absolutely was, so I’m thrilled. I can’t complain at all sitting next to two of the best in the world. I’ve looked up to the two of them for forever, since I’ve been riding and involved in the sport. To be sitting next to them is pretty surreal.”
On Hester’s circuit and upcoming plans:
“I was really planning for this class the whole circuit. I’ve been back and forth between school and here a bit so I really relied on Hester and our long partnership to help us be on the podium. Going forward, I’ll go back to school for about a month and a half and won’t ride very much, then I’ll gear back up for the Spruce Meadows summer series.”
$500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*
Place / Horse / Rider / Country / R1 Time | Faults / R2 Faults | R2 Time
1. HH Azur / McLain Ward / USA / 0 | 79.95 / 0 | 37.42
2. Gazelle / Kent Farrington / USA / 0 | 78 / 0 | 37.827
3. Hester / Lucy Deslauriers / USA / 0 | 78.26 / 0 | 39.25
4. H5 Quintol / Eduardo Menezes / BRA / 0 | 80.2 / 0 | 39.693
5. Keoki / David Blake / IRL / 0 | 81.99 / 0 | 44.363
6. Ladriano Z / Daniel Bluman / ISR / 0 | 79.83 / 4 | 39.093
7. Velini / Rodrigo Lambre / BRA / 0 | 81.91 / 4 | 40.151
8. Confu / Laura Kraut / USA / 0 / 80.55 / EL
9. Charmeur / Sergio Alvarez Moya / ESP / 4 | 77.69
10. Indra Van De Oude Heihoef / Shane Sweetnam / IRL / 4 | 77.75
11. Lucifer V / Nayel Nassar / EGY / 4 | 77.93
12. Chacco Kid / Eric Lamaze / CAN / 4 | 78.83
For full results, click here.