In a masterful display of horsemanship, America’s McLain Ward (Brewster, NY) and Rothchild blazed a path to victory tonight in the Ricoh Coliseum, taking top honours in the $100,000 Hickstead FEI World CupTM Grand Prix presented by GroupBy for the fifth time in his career.
“The Hickstead class” as it is now known, was renamed to honour the great horse Hickstead, following his passing in 2011. Hickstead carried Canadian Eric Lamaze to an individual gold medal, and Team silver in jumping at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Harrie Smolders of the Netherlands finished second aboard his firecracker of a mare, Regina Z.
Of twenty-four horses to tackle the initial round of sixteen jumping efforts on course, just seven were able to advance to the jump-off designed by 1976 Olympic silver medalist, Michel Vaillancourt.
“I thought it was a really smart course,” said Ward when asked about the biggest challenge out there tonight. “There were a lot of places to have four faults, but not one terrible spot. He got you softly in a few places.”
Smolders had the disadvantage of going first in the jump-off, having laid down the first clean round in the first round of competition.
Said Smolders: “I had to go first in the jump-off but we had fantastic, super-fast horses and riders in the jump-off so I knew you must do something spectacular if you wanted to put them under pressure. So I went as fast as possible with really short turns and I ended up second. If you had to go first in the order with these riders following you, I think second place is a very good result!”
Ward followed Smolders in the second round, and was able to observe the incredible turns and angles the pair executed, in hopes of duplicating and improving upon their time. Ward pushed Rothchild to an incredible pace, and admits luck was on their side at the Toronto skyline wall, where the bricks moved, but did not topple.
“I felt my horse was ready to win, but I knew not only with Harrie’s round in front of me but with what was coming behind me that I had to do something a bit extraordinary tonight. Sometimes it works in your favour and sometimes it all goes wrong. Tonight it was in my favour.”
It is uncharacteristic to see refusals in a jump-off, but tonight the horses of both Katie Dinan and Kent Farrington (both of Wellington, FL) were simply unable to gallop, turn and jump in the manner and speed which was required to be atop the leaderboard.
“We were making turns tonight in the jump-off that were probably two strides shorter than you would make any other day,” explained Ward. “Sometimes it got a little desperate with the turns and so it did for me, but I was able to get him to come up off the ground and it worked out.”
The Canadians did not fare nearly as well tonight, experiencing what simply felt like a raft of bad luck and circumstance.
Beth Underhill drew first in the order and had two jumps down. Third in the ring, Ainsley Vince of Burlington, ON, jumped a lovely clean first round but incurred one time fault which prevented them from moving forward. Veterans Ian Millar and Mac Cone had a rail each, and international division newcomer Jordan MacPherson had two down with her very experienced mount Piccobello du Val De Geer.
Three-time Olympian, Ward says the atmosphere at the Royal is second to none, and it’s a show he hopes to get a “lifetime invitation” to compete at.
“I’ve been coming here since I had just turned 17, and I think I’ve been coming every year since then but one. I love the city and the atmosphere here, the crowd is phenomenal. It has a very special old-world feeling.”
“We are losing the traditional shows. Here and one other show, Devon, has really held fast with tradition. You still see black-tie every night and the house is packed. There are events that say ‘society won’t go along with this type of formality and special environment’ – Well this just shows they are wrong. I think it’s really very special.”
Clearly the Royal Horse Show agrees with Ward, as he also won this afternoon’s $15,000 McKee Family International Jumper Challenge with Wings. His American teammate Laura Kraut finished in second, and last night’s winner Conor Swail of Ireland finished third.
The Royal Invitational Dressage Cup Grand Prix was contested this afternoon, where London Olympian David Marcus won with an overall score of 70.00%.
Tomorrow night’s Royal Horse Show features the finale of the Dressage Cup, the crowd-pleasing Freestyle to Music competition where Marcus will hope to maintain his lead over fellow Canadians Diane Creech, Evi Strasser and Jacqueline Brooks.
The Thursday night horse show is an exciting double-bill of dressage and international show jumping, with the fun and entertaining Top Score / Gambler’s Choice class rounding out the evening.