Wellington, Florida, USA — Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 — McLain Ward (USA) and Noche de Ronda eclipsed a top-tier field of 45 in the $213,300 Longines Grand Prix CSIO 5* on Valentine’s Day during the Palm Beach Masters Series® at Deeridge Farms. Fifth to return for the shortened track, Ward’s time of 37.86 seconds was enough to sneak past Billy Twomey (IRL) and Kimba Flamenco in second place, with Ward’s countrywoman Margie Engle (USA) and Dicas in third.
“Billy [Twomey] was fast, but I didn’t think it was breakneck speed, so to speak. I knew I had a couple of good [riders] behind me, but I thought, ‘Okay, don’t lose the class,’” said Ward, who opted for only the first of two potential leave-out options. “I thought from doing the seven [strides] from [Jump] 1 to [Jump] 2, that might have been enough to catch [Billy], and hopefully put enough pressure on Margie, and it worked out.”
Twomey returned second in the jump-off, laying down the gauntlet and maximizing Kimba Flamenco’s impressive foot speed to dash through the timers on 38.29 seconds.
“I wanted to try to put it up to the other riders; my horse is naturally a fast horse. McLain’s horse obviously has a really big step, and he was able to leave out [a stride in the first bending line], and he probably ended up a little faster than me there,” said the Irish rider, who is competing for the first time at the Palm Beach Masters Series®. “I’m really happy with the way my horse performed; he always seemed in good shape.”
McLain Ward (USA) and Noche de Ronda are presented as winners of the $213,300 Longines Grand Prix CSIO 5* alongside Palm Beach Masters Series® Co-Founder Lou Jacobs (left) and Longines Representative Miriam Behar (right).
Both the temperature and the time allowed played a role in Course Designer Alan Wade’s (IRL) 1.65m, championship-style first-round track, with nine pairs qualifying to return for the jump-off. “I think the heat was getting to a lot of horses, [and Dicas] competed yesterday also. I was just really happy with the way he performed,” said Engle, noting that she’s only recently moved the 11-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Quintender 2 x Lovis Corinth) up to the five-star level.
This is the second five-star grand prix win in the space of a week for Noche de Ronda and Ward, who planned their season with Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Week CSIO5*/CSI2* at Deeridge Farms in mind. “We were going to do a smaller grand prix earlier in the season, and then do these two weeks [in Wellington] back-to-back, to kind of get her up and running and in gear, [and] get her fitness level up to speed,” Ward explained, adding that he was particularly delighted with the mare’s performance in the second round.
“[Deeridge Farms] is obviously a very different venue,” he added. “We considered that when we thought [about competing her] two weeks in a row. I thought that the change in venue and the grass would just freshen the horse a little bit.”
With the Tokyo Olympic Games (JPN) less than six months away, Ward, a notoriously careful planner, is leaving no detail to chance, especially when it comes to Noche de Ronda. “Last week, [the jump-off] took a little bit out of the horse. This is a horse that’s aimed at big things, and she’s going to have to hold up to multiple days. Once in a while, you have to do that program, and I’m thrilled by the way she responded,” he said.
“She’s very correct in her jump, she’s very correct in her way of going, and she’s quite careful and [has] a big heart. So, you put all those things together with her power and scope, and you have a hell of a horse.”
CSIO5* competition continues Saturday with the $15,000 Bruins Tour Classic 1.45m and the 1.50m $36,600 Palm Beach Masters Classic. The week’s feature, the $230,000 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA, is set for Sunday, Feb. 16 at 1:30pm ET.
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Source: Press release from the Palm Beach Masters Series®
Photos: © Kathy Russell Photography