Omaha: McLain Ward and HH Azur Win Jumping Final I Speed Round
Less than a blink of an eye separated the top three in the LONGINES FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final I Speed Round on Thursday evening. Two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) claimed the victory on HH Azur, stopping the Longines timers in 59.27 seconds, just fractions of a second ahead of Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and Mary Lou with 59.58. Two-time defending World Cup™ Champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) was third on Bianca in 60.06 seconds.
“I never won a class without a little luck. There were a few places where I could have been a little smoother, but you have a little bit of anxiety on the first night,” said Ward. “I thought the course was big enough for the first night. In reality there was just a whisker between the three of us, I was just a bit fortunate.
“With a horse like HH Azur you come to the event with high hopes and particularly on home soil you would like to have a great finish. This is a special event. I think Lisa Roskens and her team have done a wonderful job with this event. I have quite a few close friends who made the trip here, including my wife and daughter, so I tried to make everybody proud.”
More than half the field of the 37 starters took to the Alan Wade-designed course before Ward captured the lead. His stellar ride shaved off fractions of a second to take over the top spot. Although Guerdat could not speed past Ward, he was satisfied with his top three finish.
“It was a great course for the first day. I am very happy with the position especially with the way my horse was jumping. The ride could have been a little bit better, but I’m very happy. I hope to have a good fight at the end and I can keep on riding her the way she deserves.”
With only five riders remaining it seemed as if Guerdat would be the runner-up until von Eckermann, going second to last, slid into second place. “My horse was jumping unbelievably. I made a mistake from the second fence to the third and in the end it cost me the win. It was absolutely my fault. My horse was incredible. This was for sure one of my toughest events. I am really happy with second. I always said that McLain was my favorite and now I am just behind him. I will try to catch up.”
Jumping continues on Friday with the LONGINES FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final II and culminates with Sunday’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final III, which determines the World Cup™ jumping champion.