2017 FEI World Cup Final winner McLain Ward (USA) piloted HH Azur to victory over nine fellow Olympians in the $132,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 5 on Thursday. WEF continues through April 1 at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL, and offers more than $9 million in prize money.
Week 5, sponsored by Fidelity Investments®, features CSI 5* competition from February 7-11 and the $384,000 Fidelity Investments® Grand Prix as the “Saturday Night Lights” feature on Saturday, February 10.
The WEF Challenge Cup offered the biggest prize money given yet for the Thursday feature, which is also a qualifier for Saturday night’s grand prix. There were 57 entries in the class, and they competed over a course designed by Great Britain’s Kelvin Bywater. Nineteen went clear, and 16 chose to return over the short course.
Ward and HH Azur, a 12-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare by Thunder van de Zuuthoeve owned by Double H Farm and Francois Mathy, went second to last in the jump-off. HH Azur showed off her typical lofty jump, but was fast across the ground on a giant stride to set the winning time at 39.23 seconds.
While aiming for his third WEF Challenge Cup victory of the season, Canadian Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze was just a bit short, finishing in a time of 39.94 seconds for second place on Fine Lady 5, his 2016 Olympic bronze medal-winning partner owned by Artisan Farms & Torrey Pines Stables.
Third place went to Margie Engle (USA) and Royce, owned by Gladewinds Farm Inc. They had a time of 40.75 seconds. Spencer Smith (USA) and Rivale du Barquet finished fourth on a time of 41.41 seconds, while Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) and H&M Ikker were fifth in 42.05 seconds.
While Ward did not see Lamaze go in the jump-off, he used Smith’s jump-off ride to make the decision for striding on the turn from the first to second jumps.
“That was a tough turn for a big horse, because you couldn’t change your mind,” he said. “I was lucky enough to see Spencer go before me and do eight (strides), and I thought I could do eight there. I was able to use my stride in a few places. When things show up for her like that, she is fast. If I have to check up, that’s where a horse like Eric’s can beat me, because it checks faster.”
Ward knew when he went clear in the first round that he would go for speed and the win in the jump-off.
McLain Ward (USA) & HH Azur in their awards presentation ceremony with ringmaster Steve Rector.
“We wanted to compete a little bit,” confirmed Ward. “She’s had a nice, long rest. It’s great prize money. I feel that the best way to get her on her game and get her fitness level to where I want it by the end of circuit is to compete a little bit, without doing anything insane. She needs to be in the groove.
“She feels great; she feels strong,” he continued. “I think she’s only going to get better and better as the circuit goes on.”
For their win today, Ward and HH Azur were also presented with the Champion Equine Insurance Jumper Style Award by Laura Fetterman of Champion Equine Insurance.
Source: Press Release by Jennifer Wood Media Inc. for ESP / WEF
Photos: © Sportfot