Calgary, Alberta, Canada—June 15
Sometimes, you have to try a bit less to win a bit more, or at least that’s what McLain Ward has learned about Rothchild. “This year in Florida, he performed beautifully and I made a few mistakes in jump-offs trying too hard to win,” Ward said. “This summer I tried to just take a step back and ride his round, and the result is that he's now won two big grand prix [classes].”
The scene of one of those big wins was at the Spruce Meadows Continental Tournament, where Ward and Rothchild topped a field of 35 to take the top check in the $210,000 CP Grand Prix. Ward defeated Canadian stars Yann Candele riding Showgirl and Eric Lamaze on Powerplay in an exciting jump-off.
Five horses advanced to the jump-off, and Candele had the unenviable luck to go first. He and Showgirl set down a quick, clear round in 45.77 seconds, which would finish in second place.
“I know all of [the other riders in the jump-off]; I knew they would be faster than me,” Candele stated. “The key was for me to stay clear. Everybody was faster than me today. With the big gallop, it's a little bit of an illusion. People think we're sometimes faster than we are. My turns were a little slow, and that's where I lose a lot of time. We don't know each other that long.”
Ward and Rothchild, owned by Sagamore Farm, were next in. They sped around the shortened course, completing a great inside turn from an oxer to the CP planks and stopped the timers in 43.29 seconds to go into the lead.
Ward recounted, “Rothchild is a hot little horse. I felt if I could do the same track [as Yann], it would be quicker and put the pressure on the ones behind me. I certainly think that I left enough room that if someone put in a hell of a round to beat it, it wasn't unbeatable. You put a little pressure, and people are trying very hard. A little mistake here and there, and once in a while things go your way.”
It was that CP planks jump that would play a big part in the last three competitors' rides. Lamaze and Powerplay, owned by Artisan Farms LLC, took down three of the top planks after their inside turn didn't go as planned. Their 4 faults and time of 43.52 seconds slotted them into third place.
Lamaze said of his rail down, “It's sort of what came up, distance-wise. I was committed to the turn, and there was a distance in front of me. I just rolled back on it and at the end, I was underneath the plank, and I was too short. But that's the risk you've got to take in the jump-off.”
Christine McCrea and Romantovich Take One, owned by Candy Tribble, completed the turn but just tapped the top plank for 4 faults for fourth place in 43.87 seconds. Tiffany Foster of Canada and Artisan Farms LLC's Verdi III had 4 faults at the jump before the planks and had a slip through the turn, pulling up before the plank jump. They attempted three more fences before retiring on course for fifth place.
Lamaze said that he was very happy with Powerplay, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Casall x Limbus. The pair has only been together for a year. “I never even thought a year ago that I could take a shot at McLain's round with that particular horse. But he has learned to be much faster so that I could try and compete,” Lamaze said. “Unfortunately today we had one down. If I can think of the biggest progress that horse has made, he's learned to carry a little speed and jump the fences, which a year ago he wasn't able to.”
It is also a newer relationship for Candele and Showgirl, a 14-year-old Selle Francais mare by Gold de Becourt x Elf III. Showgirl was purchased for Candele with the goal of qualifying for the Canadian team for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France) in August. With that in mind, Candele's main goal this week was a strong performance in Friday's Nations Cup.
But Candele does feel that Showgirl has improved, and their relationship has become stronger since the beginning of the year. “We consider that it takes six months to a year to know the horses that we are riding. There are a lot of things, like bridle, tack, knowing the personality. I made some major mistakes in Florida at the beginning, but through the season there was progress,” he acknowledged. “These mistakes are disappearing because we understand more who she is. I understand more who she is. We know which way we need to go. It just takes time.”
Ward has seen Rothchild, a 13-year-old SBS gelding by Artos Z x Elegant de L'le, step up to become a top 1.60-meter horse in their five years together, and it took understanding what Rothchild was willing to give. “He's a little special. You've got to be his friend. Through the years, he's really become my friend,” Ward said.
“I believe in this horse. You have to give in a little bit to his personality traits, but he tries for you. I think we would all agree that we would much rather [have] a horse that does it their own way, but gives you what he has, than something that is super talented and always finds a way to knock a jump down. He has a lot of heart, this horse.”
When Ward needed Rothchild to step up as his top horse, the determined pair made it happen. In addition to today's grand prix, they won the Longines Global Champions Tour Antwerp Grand Prix (Belgium) in April. “He's gotten better and better at it, and probably I've gotten to believe in him more and more. The result is a more consistent performance at this level,” Ward said.