McLain Ward proved a worthy champion in Omaha last night, winning the Longines FEI World Cup Final™ after a faultless weekend of competition. Ward and his mare HH Azur handled the pressure brilliantly in the final round, knowing it was theirs to lose. Switzerland’s Romain Duguet and Twentytwo des Biches finished second and Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann took third with Mary Lou.
The first round track designed by Alan Wade consisted of 13 obstacles and 16 efforts. The course was befitting of a championship, with fences at max height and technical challenges that tested the best. Of 26 starters in round 1, 9 went clear. Though rails fell throughout the course, it was the upright verticals that caused the most problems, especially at the final fence, which turned out to be an unlucky 13 for some. Gregory Wathelet, who was nipping at Ward’s heels just 3 points off the lead had an unlucky rail in both of yesterday’s rounds that knocked him down to 7th place, far from the podium.
Twenty riders returned for round 2, and 12 were clear. Leopold van Asten and Simon Delestre had the toughest goes, each picking up 8 faults to drop to 13th and 14th place.
All the top 6 finishers put in clear second rounds, showing their calm under pressure. Henrik von Eckermann and Romain Duguet were both enthusiastic after landing from the final fence, knowing they’d be guaranteed a podium position. But when McLain Ward entered the arena, the air was electric. The crowd hushed as Ward executed what would be a perfect round, and bubbled over into ear-splitting applause when it was official Ward would be named champion.
The emotion was evident on Ward’s face as the national anthem played. For the two time Olympic gold medalists, this was his first ever World Cup win. “It’s amazing. To win the World Cup™ anywhere is a dream come true and to win here at home with this amazing crowd is something I have been dreaming about since I was a little kid,” beamed Ward. “I have been the overnight leader a couple of times and messed it up some way or another. I said to “Annie” (as he affectionately calls his mount, HH Azur), ‘I need a little help tonight’ and she gave it to me.”
2nd place finisher Duguet – who helped Ward celebrate by pouring champagne down his back – was thrilled with his finish, admitting he would have been happy to finish in the top 10 and felt no pressure at all going into the final round. He also cleared up the name of his horse, Twentytwo des Biches, explaining that des Biches is the region of the mares birth and is, in fact, not derogatory in his native French.
For Henrik von Eckermann, 3rd place with Mary Lou was a dream finish. Von Eckermann launched his own venture last September and began working with the mare at that time. “I’m very happy,” said von Eckermann. “For me winning third place was great because I started out in sixth today and moved up. My horse really deserved it, she was incredible.”
It was a thrilling weekend of competition at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha and we congratulate all the weekend’s top finishers!
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza