Wellington, Fla.—March 28
McLain Ward had a slow start to his season this year, but he’s been picking up steam the last month or so. And with his latest win in tonight’s $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix on HH Carlos, he’s firmly back in the spotlight.
“As I always say to [owner Hunter Harrison], he’s one of these horses that it’s always worth getting dressed for,” said Ward, Brewster, N.Y. “He’s always going to fight and try and go big, and we really appreciate those athletes.”
That inherent try came in handy in today’s class. Steve Stephens set tonight’s track, including an oxer-oxer-oxer combination, and a bogey fence in the form of a dark plank fence that fell repeatedly. A delicate bicycle fence came down as well, and a packed crowd added atmosphere to the challenge. Three riders on the 40-horse start list tipped their hats when their horses struggled on course, and one more was eliminated.
Ward went last the three-horse jump-off, and both Georgina Bloomberg (Lilli) and Daniel Bluman (Conconcreto Sancha LS) before him ticked rails over the short course. Last to go, HH Carlos tipped the bogey plank out of the cups early, and Ward turned on the afterburners to make sure he had the fastest 4-fault round and the top check in the richest class of the Winter Equestrian Festival.
Bluman was pleased to finish second with his longtime partner, Sancha. He won this class back in 2012, but considers himself a much more mature competitor now.
“Maybe I was too young to win then, and a lot’s happened since then, and I’ve learned a lot of things,” said Bluman, who rides for Colombia but is based in Wellington. “This year I was able to understand what I was doing right. My mare was feeling fantastic.”
Bloomberg was thrilled that Lilli, who won the $127,000 Adequan Grand Prix during week 3 of WEF, stepped up for another big paycheck. She’s been in the shadow of mounts like Juvina, who partnered with Bloomberg to win the inaugural Central Park $210,000 Grand Prix presented by Rolex.
“It’s a nice surprise that she stepped up to be a horse I never knew she could be,” said Bloomberg, New York City.
Ward’s season started out a bit slow as his top partner Rothchild enjoyed some downtime after winning the World Cup Qualifier at the Royal Winter Fair (Ontario). His win with HH Carlos, a 13-year-old Zangersheide (Chellano Z—Sara van het Parelshof) comes on the heels of a pair of red ribbons from the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix (Calif.) and the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix (Fla.) with Rothchild. Ward joked that his increasing bank account lets him breathe easier now that he has a six-week old daughter.
“I said on the way home from [the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix] that it was community college, but now it’s back to the Ivy League,” he said.