By Louise Parkes
That longed for Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping title is only one more competition away for America’s McLain Ward (41) who, for the second night in a row, rocketed to victory at the Centurylink Center in Omaha (USA) tonight with the brilliant 11-year-old mare HH Azur.
“She’s an independent woman, I don’t think she needs me very much! I have to try to keep a handle on her, but she tries to give you everything she has, and she has a tremendous amount to give!”
The double Olympic gold medallist has wanted this title for a very long time and, at his 17th Final it is almost in his grasp. But with only a three-point advantage over tonight’s runner-up, Gregory Wathelet (36) from Belgium, and just a fence separating him from third-placed Swiss rider Romain Duguet (36) going into Sunday’s decider, it’s far from done and dusted.
Wathelet won’t be a pushover, and is thrilled to have re-established his partnership with Forlap who he brought to top level before the gelding was sold. This is something of a #TwoHearts story. “He lost his confidence because he was passed around to several different riders, so it was a bit of a risk buying him back”, the 2015 European silver medallist, who is clearly delighted the 12-year-old gelding is back home where he started, and relishing his job once again.
“The biggest challenge for me is to keep my head right” admitted Ward tonight. “It’s something I need to master, and I hope I can do that this weekend”, the man from Brewster, New York said.
Result: 1, HH Azur (McLain Ward) USA 0/0 36.87; 2, Forlap (Gregory Wathelet) BEL 0/0 39.39; 3, Twentytwo Des Biches (Romain Duguet) SUI 0/0 40.46.
Full Result here
Classification after 2 competitions: 1, McLain Ward USA 0; 2, Gregory Wathelet BEL 3; 3, Romain Duguet SUI 4.
Full Classification here
Facts and Figures:
33 horse-and-rider combinations competed in tonight’s second competition at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017 Final in Omaha (USA).
Once again America’s McLain Ward and HH Azur came out on top, and they go into Sunday’s deciding competition on a zero score. However Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Forlap are less than a single fence behind.
The first time the Final visited the USA in the 39-year history of the event was in 1980 when it was staged in Baltimore.
Four riders have won the FEI World Cup™ Jumping title on three occasions: Hugo Simon, Austria - Gladstone 1979, ET FRH in 1996 and 1997. Rodrigo Pessoa, Brazil - 1998, 1999 and 2000 all with Baloubet du Rouet. Marcus Ehning, Germany - Anka 2003, Sandro Boy 2006, Noltes Kuchengirl/Plot Blue 2010. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Germany - 2005, 2008 and 2009 all with Shutterfly.
The countries with the greatest number of victories in the series are Germany with 10 successes followed by USA with 9.
The youngest winning horse was the 7-year-old Aramis, ridden by Canada’s Mario Deslauriers in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1984. Deslauriers is also the youngest rider ever to have taken the title. He was just 19 years old when lifting the coveted trophy.
McLain Ward USA - 1st: “In our sport there are three major events - the Olympic Games, World Championships and the World Cup Final - that we all very much want to win in our career. It’s a big deal."
Gregory Wathelet BEL - 2nd: (Talking about his horse, Forlap) “I never expected him to get his confidence back so quickly but three weeks ago he started feeling good again. Today I decided to go a bit for the time, it’s always easier when you have a horse that fights for you. I knew McLain would be fast so I went quick but not crazy.”
Romain Duguet SUI - 3rd: “I’m very happy with TwentyTwo (his horse TwentyTwo des Biches), I have her since she was five years old, she’s never spectacular but she jumps clear rounds. It wasn’t my plan to ride her in the Final but my other horse was injured. TwentyTwo is only 10 but she proved she can be really good this week. We go day by day at this Final.”
McLain Ward and the mare HH Azur, winners of tonight's thrilling second leg at the Centurylink Center, have a three-point advantage going into Sunday's title decider for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final 2017 in Omaha (USA). (Cara Grimshaw/FEI)