Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 22
There was no fist-pump from McLain Ward after he cleared the final jump-off fence of the $401,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix. Rather, a sigh of relief as he crossed the timers with HH Azur, who has been on the mend since twisting a hind ankle at the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final (Barcelona) in September 2019.
“Tonight she felt great,” Ward said of the 15-year-old SBS mare. “She’s getting a little older. She’s jumped a lot of big jumps in her life, and she’s been an incredible partner.”
HH Azur made her return to international competition in the $213,300 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Wellington CSI4*-W at Deeridge Farms in February, but it was a rocky start—they retired in the opening round.
“I started her about three weeks ago in a four-star, thinking that it was going to be a little bit of a mild start, and to be honest, I got a little bit off guard,” Ward said. “I don’t think I had the horse fit enough to go back to back days. I was a little bit upset with myself and backed off for three weeks and just worked a little bit on fitness. Then this week, with that in mind, she jumped on Thursday, a clear round in the [$137,000 Equinimity WEF Cup Round 7] qualifier. I didn’t jump her off, even though it was great prize money. I wanted to put my eggs in this basket. It’s nice when the plan works.”
The win, which occurred Saturday night during Week 7 of the Winter Equestrian Festival, marks Ward’s third consecutive five-star victory in the span of three weeks. (Read about his recent wins aboard Noche De Ronda.)
“It’s been a pretty incredible few weeks,” said Ward. “My team is doing an incredible job. I’m lucky to have phenomenal horses and owners; to be able to have multiple horses that can win at this level. If we’re really honest with ourselves, sometimes you can do nothing right, and sometimes you can do nothing wrong. We’re in one of those streaks, and we’re going to enjoy it and try to keep doing our best.”
Ward and “Annie” were one of 40 combinations to contest the intricately designed track by Spain’s Santiago Varela, show jumping’s course designer for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. After nine retirements and one elimination, Ward and HH Azur were one of six to return to the jump-off, where they rode clean in 39.85 seconds to win, besting the next fastest pair by four seconds.
“For me, [Santiago] and Alan Wade are the best in the world,” said Ward. “I think they’re smart. They’re horseman course builders. They make you think as a rider.
“Santi just gets the horses a little off balance with the lines; he turns you twice in one direction and back the other way,” Ward added. “You see a lot of horses just get to a fence a little crooked or a little on the inside track. You don’t see big scores, but you see a lot of 4-fault rounds. I certainly love jumping his courses, and I think he’s going to do a brilliant job at the Olympic Games.”
Ireland’s Capt. Brian Cournane and the 12-year old Irish Sport Horse mare Penelope Cruz finished in 44.19 seconds for second place.
“She’s been jumping great,” Cournane said of Penelope Cruz. “She’s been doing the 1.50 meter league on Sundays; she’s been going really well in that. I stepped her up to the five-star grand prix here a couple weeks ago, and she had a couple down and made a couple green mistakes. Tonight she really felt on form and jumped great.”
Alex Granato and Carlchen W finished third.