Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 8
The 2017 FEI World Cup Final winner McLain Ward piloted HH Azur to victory over nine fellow Olympians in the $132,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 5 at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
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 came up 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 and Royce, owned by Gladewinds Farm Inc. They had a time of 40.75 seconds. Spencer Smith and Rivale Du Barquet finished fourth on a time of 41.41 seconds, while Olivier Philippaerts of Belgium 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.
“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.”
Watch Ward and HH Azur’s jump-off round: