Wellington, Fla.—March 23
If you want to win a jump-off at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival these days, just being efficient isn’t enough: You have to be positively blazing.
McLain Ward kicked Zander into high gear to win tonight’s $100,000 Suncast 1.50-meter Classic Finale, combining a giant stride and plenty of footspeed to take the title. He clocked in 1½ seconds faster than Janne Friederike Meyer and Cellagon Lambrasco—who’s not exactly a plodding type. Pablo Barrios and Zara Leandra took third with a double-clear jump-off.
Ward had high hopes for Zander when they paired up at the beginning of 2012, but after Ward broke his leg  the Dutch Warmblood (Cantos—Sacha, Saygon) went on the back burner for a bit. By midyear he was on form, with good performances at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) and winning a grand prix at the Valkenswaard CSI (the Netherlands).
Since then Ward’s been working on getting that 9-year-old experience.
“He’s got a really big stride and he’s a very careful horse,” said Ward, Brewster, N.Y. “He’s such a flamboyant jumper that he loses his parts once in a while. Through this Florida he’s kind of figured out how to really gallop at a fence and also have control of his body.”
Ward arrived back at WEF having taken a spent last weekend at HITS Thermal (Calif.) for the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix.  “We had to be there Wednesday for a riders’ meeting, so we made a little vacation out of it,” said Ward. “This is a great circuit, but in my opinion there’s too many shows. Even though we can take rest weeks, I feel they need to build in and mandate a rest week, because between clients and other obligations it’s hard. We took a few days off, unfortunately that was all [the trip was] good for because we didn’t win any money!”
Meyer and Cellagon Lambrasco, veterans of the 2012 London Olympic Games for Germany, made their first trip to Florida this year. Meyer decided to come stateside along with her boyfriend, German horse dealer Christoph Zimmerman, to get ready for the European outdoor season and get some greener mounts more experience.
She originally bought Cellagon Lambrasco as an 8-year-old, thinking the Holsteiner (Libero—Fabia, Coriolan) would be her next speed horse.
“He’s so small, and he’s really fast and brave, but no one thought he would have this scope,” said Meyer of the buoyant gelding. “He never jumped that high over the rails when he started over 1.30-meter, so we thought, OK, for speed, but not much more. But every time we put the jumps up he was good. And when he made that last step between 1.50-meter and 1.60-meter he even did that. I’m really happy with him.”
Ben Maher was onhand—but sore—to accept his $25,000 bonus check as the top rider in the Suncast series. He took a fall off Urico while warming up for the jump-off of Thursday's $50,000 Ruby et Voilette WEF Challenge Cup. He took a stab at today’s course on Quiet Easy 4, but tipped his hat partway through the course. Afteward he said his heart wasn’t in it, joking that his should have had a nice dinner and watched his fellow competitors.
“I have quite a bad burn down the right side of my leg from where the pole was between the floor and the horse,” said Maher. “I’ve had it X-rayed, but I’m going to double check with something else tomorrow to make sure we didn’t miss something.”
For results, visit www.showgroundslive.com . Need more WEF? Catch up on yesterday's George Morris Excellence In Equitation championship.