Ward’s Elusive Title
by Dana Rossmeier
On his 17th attempt, McLain Ward with HH Azur won the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup Final title Sunday.
The crowd was electric at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center when Ward captured the title (click play on photo above to watch). The 2016 Rio Olympic team silver medalist combination jumped five consecutive clean rounds to secure the win that eluded him his entire career.
Switzerland’s Romain Duguet and Sweden’s Henrik Von Eckermann finished second and third, respectively. Seven additional U.S. combinations joined Ward, who all put forth great effort despite varying levels of experience.
“I’ve been a fighter, digger, and grinder my whole career. I try never to give up and try to keep working at it. The team works at it, and today’s just a culmination of a lot of people’s hard work,” said Ward.
A total of 26 combinations, including four U.S. combinations, advanced to Sunday’s Jumping Final where two rounds determined the champion. One rail separated the top three keeping the competition extremely tight.
Switzerland’s Romain Duguet went clear to remain on four penalties putting extra pressure on Ward for a clear round. Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet had one rail, which put him at seven penalty points, overall, giving Ward extra breathing room. Resting on zero penalties heading into the first round of competition, the crowd watched in excitement and anticipation as Ward (Brewster, N.Y.) and Double H Farm & Francois Mathy’s 2006 Belgian Warmblood mare took the course on. Ward and HH Azur delivered a clean round to move to the second round still in the lead.
Charlie Jacobs (Boston, Mass.) with Cassinja S, CMJ Sporthorse LLC’s 2006 Zweibrücker mare, and Laura Kraut (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) with Zeremonie, Old Willow Farms, LLC’s 2007 Holsteiner mare, joined Ward in the second round and ended with 20 and 23 penalties, respectively. After accumulating faults during each day of competition, Kraut ended on a high note with a clear round on Sunday.
“This was the first round where she actually felt like she normally does outside. She was loose and relaxed, listened to me, and was not so overwhelmed with the environment. She will come out of this with more mileage and experience, and I am looking forward to the future,” said Kraut.
Duguet continued to put the pressure on Ward by going clear in the second round to remain on four penalty points. Wathelet followed and dropped another rail giving him 11 total penalties. With no room for error, Ward and HH Azur remained focused and determined. The dependable mare gave Ward everything she had to help Ward seal the victory.
“[Owners Hunter Harrison and François Mathy] are huge father figures in my life. I learned a tremendous amount from both of them. Much of who I am is because of these two men, and to have them both own, what I consider the best horse I ever sat on in my life, it’s emotional enough,” said Ward, following his double-clear performance on Friday.