It was another marquee win in Tryon for McLain Ward with Noche de Ronda after racing to win the $384,000 Gary Sinise Foundation Grand Prix CSI5* held Oct. 19 at Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina. Ward halted the jump-off timers in 32.83 seconds with Eugenio Garza Perez piloting Armani SL Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide gelding owned by David & Monica Garza, to a close second with a jump-off performance of 32.99 seconds, while third-placed honors went to Kristen VanderVeen and Bull Run’s Risen, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Bull Run Jumpers, Inc., who put in a 33.68-second jump-off ride to secure the podium finish.
The crown jewel of competitions held at TIEC every fall series, the $384,000 Gary Sinise Foundation Grand Prix CSI 5* was moved up ahead of significant rain in the region, but the competition could not be dampened as 50 of the world’s best challenged the Guilherme Jorge track. Twelve pairs qualified for the jump-off test, and following a blazing round from Garza Perez, Ward was last to go piloting the Bob Russell-owned 10-year-old Oldenburg mare.
“I knew when I saw Eugenio’s time that it was a tough task. He’s a fast rider, on a very efficient horse that doesn’t waste time. My horse is a bit of a bigger, slower horse, so I knew I was going to need to use my stride,” Ward said. “For [fences] one, two, and three, it was a little bit on the extreme edge—a lesser horse probably would have crashed at fence three, but she’s got incredible scope. And then, I just tried to stay to the plan on the rest of the way home.
“I mean, it’s not even a half-inch difference; sometimes you come out on top and sometimes you’re second, and there’s no difference in the rounds, to be frank,” said Ward. “My week’s been a little slow—I had a time fault earlier in the week. It’s been very relaxing here. Tryon has always been very good to me. The horses have been jumping well, but we just haven’t been winning a lot of prizes. So, it was nice to turn that around today on the best day of the week!”
Ward returned to the venue for Tryon Fall 5 competition for the first time since clinching an iconic gold medal with Team USA at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games and noted that the memories rooted at the facility are still fresh:
“There’s no doubt that what we were able to accomplish last year was a career and life moment—not only to win on the team, but how much that team was around my neck, so to speak, and that’ll be with us forever,” he stated. “It’s a great venue here, and even in not great weather conditions, people come out to support, and the community is very behind us, and that always makes you want to be at your best. We have some great friends in this area, and it’s always nice to come back and spend a bit of time here.”
For Garza Perez, the rounds put on the board before him in the jump-off didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that Ward would ride right behind him, he admitted:
“When you have that guy behind you, you kind of have to go all out! It doesn’t matter what horse he’s on. He could be on foot and he’s probably going to be faster than you! I tried to go as fast as possible and play to the strengths of my horse. [Armani SL Z] was phenomenal today, and I couldn’t have asked more of him,” Garza Perez said.
VanderVeen, who’s seen great success at the venue, particularly in CSI5* competition, noted that her podium finish was a great way to cap a week of strong rides. “I always love spending time in Tryon—we spend a lot of time here. The week has been great: I’ve been very close in a few of the classes now, but not quite hitting, so it was great for everything to all come together tonight.”