Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 14
The day couldn’t have been more different than last week’s $401,000 Fidelity Investments CSI5* Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Today riders traveled down the street to the Palm Beach Masters at Deeridge Farm to contest the $213,300 Longines Grand Prix out on the grass field. And while last week’s class was held at night with a more raucous crowd, this afternoon’s class, held under oppressive heat and humidity, had the same result: McLain Ward took the win with Noche De Ronda, stopping the timers in 37.86 seconds.
“Any win is great, especially at this level,” Ward said. “This is obviously a very different venue. We considered that when we thought two weeks in a row. We thought the change in venue and grass would just freshen the horse a little bit.
“But last week, that was a pretty spectacular jump-off; it certainly took a little out of the horse,” he continued. “This is a horse that’s aimed at big things, and she’s going to be able to hold up to multiple days, and once in a while you have to do that program, and I’m thrilled with the way that she responded.”
Until last year, few had heard of the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Quintender—Ritschina Ratscione, Loves Corinth) Ward owns with Marilla Van Beuren and Bob Russell, but she came out at the CHIO Aachen (Germany) to jump two clear rounds in the Nations Cup and won the Allianz-Prize.
“She’s the most marish mare I’ve had,” Ward said. “She looks like this big, quiet, almost equitation horse, but she’s not. She’s very correct in her job, and she’s quite careful and a big heart. Put all those things together, and you have a hell of a horse.”
The victory marked Ward’s 199th career international win, but the veteran rider admitted he wasn’t sure today was going to be his day.
“I have to be frank, I was a little bit lucky to qualify yesterday,” he said. “I didn’t have a great round in the qualifier with another horse, and it maybe focused me a little bit. And I was really thrilled with her performance, particularly in the jump-off. She felt tired in this heat in the first round, it is pretty extreme, but the jump-off I thought she really was in form.”
Ward had plenty of top competition hoping to prevent him from topping another grand prix. Ireland’s Billy Twomey, who went fourth in the original order, put in a top-class round with Kimba Flamenco to take second.
“I wanted to try to put up to the other riders,” Twomey said. “The horse is naturally a faster horse; McLain’s horse obviously has a really big step, but I’m really happy with the way my horse performed. It’s been so far so good, and I’m looking forward to the coming weeks.”
Slotting into third was Margie Engle with Dicas. She’ll also be jumping in the Nations Cup on Sunday with Royce.
“I was thrilled with him,” she said. “He’s a big horse; I’ve had him since he was 6. I almost didn’t bring him over because he was so big. He’s really come along really well over the last year and just started doing the five-stars. I’m just thrilled with the way he’s going.”
Want to read more about Ward’s win? Check out the March 9th issue of the Chronicle.