Ocala, Fla.—March 23
It really didn’t look like anyone could go much faster than McLain Ward on Rothchild. The charismatic chestnut had turned and burned his way to the leading time in the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix and Rothchild let out an enthusiastic buck as they crossed the timers and the crowd exploded. But when Charlie Jayne picked up a gallop, the game was on. Jayne scrubbed and clucked and willed Chill R Z to a blistering jump-off round to relegate Ward and “Bongo” to second. Callan Solem and the less experienced VDL Wizard left all the rails in the cup for third.
Six horses laid down a clear first round over Buddy Brown’s first-round track, and Jayne, of Elgin, Ill., took advantage of his stallion’s huge stride to beat out Ward and Rothchild by nearly half a second. Today’s $350,000 payday, coupled with his third place finish from the AIG $1 Million class at HITS Thermal (Calif.) and fourth at the Zoetis $1 Million last September at HITS Saugerties (N.Y.) gives him $570,000 worth of paychecks to deposit in the bank. There’s a sizeable rider bonus on the line for any rider who can top the $1 million dollar class in Thermal, Ocala and Saugerties (N.Y.) in succession, and Jayne is already planning on taking Chill R Z to the Saugerites class in the fall.
He prepared for this class with a last ditch effort to qualify for the upcoming Longines Las Vegas World Cup Finals next month by contesting the final qualifier at the Live Oak International (Fla.) up the road, but a few faults on course left him just off the start list for the Final. Still he’s impressed with the versatility of that Zangersheide (Chellano Z—Nina R, A Lucky One), who performs equally well on a grass field like the one on Live Oak, in an expansive arena or a tight indoor.
“He adjusts and adapts to the situation. He’s gotten better at that every year since I got him when he was 8,” said Jayne of the horse who’s owned by Maura Thatcher of Pony Lane Farm.
Building For The Masses
Brown had the challenge of trying to build for world-class competitors, some of whom earned invitations to the class, as well as horses who qualified over national-level grand prix tracks throughout HITS winter circuits. He’s been tweaking a track for tonight for nearly a year, and hoped for four to six clear rounds.
“I wanted to be very technical, but not dangerous. I was subtle with the placement of the water and things like that. In hindsight you think you know where the trouble spots are.”
Ward and Rothchild, while lacking a blue ribbon, also have quite a healthy two-week payday as they were second in the Thermal Million as well to the tune of $200,000 for each red ribbon.
“It’s mildly bittersweet, but still an incredible payday for me,” said Ward, Brewster, N.Y. “It’s great to see our sport coming to that level. My horse performed great this week, and I went a little faster this week. I had a feeling that Charlie was going to lay it on the line, and he did a great job. That’s sport. That’s what it’s about.
“He’s been more than a great partner,” he continued. “It’s remarkable what this little horse has done, and what he did last year [helping the United States earn bronze at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and earning individual fifth with Ward]. As I’ve said before, he’s really my friend, this horse.”
Rothchild will head to the Gobal Champions Tour in Miami (Fla.) then head to Las Vegas for the Longines FEI World Cup Final.
Reitrement In Sight?
Ward’s a new father just welcomed his first child to the world, and he smiles when he thinks of her. “Fatherhood is amazing,” he said. “My wife has been amazing and the little girl, Lilly, leaves me speechless. She’s been doing great. She’ll get up to eat at 3 or so, but Lauren does a great job.”
There’s one problem though: Lilly hasn’t been up on a real pony yet. She’s been to the barn and came to watch her dad tonight with his wife, Lauren Ward.
“I told her during the Nations Cup that in 18 years we’ll do it together, and then I’ll be done,” he said.
Look out world.