McLain Ward delivered what well may go down as one of the most exhilarating jump-offs in World Cup history to win the second night of competition at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals in Omaha.
A tight time allowed and numerous bogey fences proved a daunting task for last night’s field of 33 riders. The Alan Wade designed track saw just 6 clear rounds, the first of which came from Marcus Ehning, 18th in the order. 7 rides later, another German, Guido Klatte jun., guaranteed a jump-off. Martin Fuchs, Romain Duguet, Gregory Wathelet, and McLain Ward would all finish round 1 on 0 faults.
Despite the time allowed being increased, the clock kept 4 otherwise clear rounds by Lorenzo de Luca, Keean White, Denis Lynch, and Maikel van der Vleuten from joining the jump-off. Defending champion Steve Guerdat suffered an unfortunate 4 faults making it an even greater challenge for the Swiss show jumper to defend his back-to-back title.
The German riders, Ehning and Klatte, were first to go in the jump-off, each picking up 8 faults. Martin Fuchs and Clooney were next and put in a spectacular clear in 44.01 seconds, but the rides just kept getting faster. Romain Duguet was clear in 40.46 and Gregory Wathelet and Forlap put on a jump-off master class to stop the clock at 39.39. On a normal day, that time probably would have won it, but McLain Ward and HH Azur executed nail biting cut backs and an all out gallop to the last that sliced a remarkable 2.52 seconds off Wathelet’s time.
Of his incredible mare, HH Azur, Ward says, “She’s a pretty strong, independent woman, I don’t think she needs me very much. She tries to give you everything she has and she has a tremendous amount to give.” Also special to Ward are the mare’s owners, Hunter Harrison and Francois Mathy. “This situation with Azur is very special to me both because of Hunter and Francois Mathy. Both of these men are huge father figures to me in my life. Much of who I am is because of these two men and to have them both own what I consider to be the best horse I’ve ever sat on in my life is emotional enough,” says Ward of Azur’s owners.
Second place finisher Wathelet also has a special story with Forlap, who was one of his top mounts for many years prior to being sold. After a 2-year break, Forlap found his way back to Wathelet, which has clearly delighted the Belgian rider. “I was really happy to get him back, I was really surprised how quick he got back his confidence. He’s always a horse that will fight for me.”
Though Ward is on a hot streak, anything can happen on the last day of the World Cup Final. With the world’s best nipping at his heels, it’s sure to be a thrilling day of competition in Omaha tomorrow!
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza