Show World

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Grand Prix Begins and Ends in the Victory Circle for Ward

June 05, 2012 By: janwest Category: General

 

Heather Hooker and Castlekeep

Whoops and hollers were heard from the stands as Saddlebred horses claimed the Dixon Oval.  Unlike their more stoic hunter horse counterparts, these horses thrive on energy and are known as the “peacocks of the show world.”  Exhibitors clapped along to the organ music and cheered for these high stepping, tail flagging horses as they exhibited at not only the walk, trot, and canter but also two gaits specific to the breed– the “slow gait” and “rack.” 

Champion in the three-gaited English show pleasure class was Kathleen Ververeli riding her own Go For Glory with second place going to Gone Platinum and third going to Ridgewood’s Lasting Love.  In the three-gaited park horse amateur class, the blue was awarded to Allyson Ehle on Ryan’s Wish with the red ribbon to Romantic Manifesto and the yellow ribbon to The Mansion.  In the ladies’ three-gaited class, Margaret Biggs bested the competition on her own Nutty By Nature.  Annika Bruggeworth settled for second on CH Callaway’s Merry-Go-Round.  In the open three-gaited saddle horse class, first place went to Jan Lukens on Tia Margarita with SJ The Smart Lady and Revel taking second and third respectively. 

Then the five-gaited horses entered and riders were instructed to “let ’em rack!”  In the ladies’ five-gaited class, Ceil Wheeler rode her own CH Callaway’s Born For This to first place.  Coming in second was Helen Robertson with The Lady Sings the Blues.  Third place was awarded to Allyson Ehle riding Blazing Sevens.  First place in the five-gaited open class went to Ceil Wheeler again, this time riding The Mighty Moe.  Settling for second place was Jason Molback on Tornaado’s Tempest.  And with that, the “shakey tails” exited the ring having suitably entertained the evening’s crowds.  

John Ingram and Costar

Dunkin’ Donuts for Sapphire

When you visualize a world-class athlete the day of an important competition, you probably don’t imagine him signing autographs for charity.  Yet that’s exactly what McLain Ward was doing when I walked into the horse show office to interview him.  The Olympic medalist was painstakingly autographing Sapphire Breyer horse models and Sapphire retirement tee shirts.  While we chatted, Ward, looking relaxed in sweats and tee, shared his thoughts on the retirement of his horse Sapphire-one of the greatest show jumping mares in history. 

He shared Sapphire’s retirement plans and when asked what she would most be looking forward to at Blue Chip Farm in Wallkill, NY, the answer came easily-eating.  As Ward explained, as a competitor at the top levels of sport, Sapphire has been on a very strict diet for her entire career to maintain the highest level of performance.  As Ward noted, she’ll now not only be able to freely graze but she’ll be able to indulge in the favorite treat on her bucket list– Dunkin’ Donuts.  No picky eater, Ward noted that any type of doughnut will do.  In addition to her leisure activities, Sapphire will be bred. 

When asked what prompted the decision to retire this grand mare, Ward explained that after her injury his team had tried to rehab her in time for the Olympics.  Despite their best efforts, Ward felt that the mare was not 100%.  Rather than push her, the decision was made to retire her and allow her to enjoy a healthy and happy leisure life. 

When asked to compare his current Grand Prix mount to Sapphire, Ward was quick to highlight the differences between the two.  As Ward notes, Sapphire was a calm mare and the challenge was to keep her fit enough to be sharp.  Antares F, the 11 year-old Wurtemburger gelding owned by Grant Road Partners, is a contrast in style.  The gelding is more “up” and the challenge with Antares F is to control and package his athleticism.  As Sapphire heads to retirement and Antares F hits his prime, McLain will vie for not only a win in the Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon but also a spot on the 2012 Olympic Show Jumping Team.

Always a cool customer, the pressure is on McLain this year due to the unfortunate timing of a fractured knee he sustained in in Wellington this January.  Ward described the challenge of rehabbing, giving credit to his wife and stable team.  He noted the one bright side of the injury-his time away from the ring made him miss showing and made him all the more hungry for a win in the Devon Grand Prix and a bid to the olympics.  As he notes, sometimes it takes an unexpected set of circumstances to make you “realize how much you love what you do.”  We have certainly loved watching the journey. 

Rodney Jenkins and Idle Dice

A Farewell to Sapphire and Hello Antares F!
By Veronica Finkelstein

One chapter closed for McLain Ward and another opened as he retired his long-time partner Sapphire and then returned with Antares F to top the leaderboard of the 2012 Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon.

The field read as a who’s who of top showjumping.  Always an exciting and anticipated event, this year’s Grand Prix was especially critical for many riders because the class served as an official United States Equestrian Federation Observation Event.  As the competitors were well aware, an impressive performance in this class could lead to a recommendation that the rider and horse be named to the Olympic showjumping team for London.  Clearly, the pressure was on and many rose to the occasion.  The crowd supported their team contenders by waving American flags and donning baseball caps sold by the Souvenir Booth to commemorate the occasion. 

International course designer Michele Vaillancourt set a demanding track, with maximum heights and spreads.  The bogey obstacle on course was fence number nine, a red plank vertical that served as the “out” jump of a challenging line and eliminated several competitors.  A field of sixteen was quickly whittled as five riders jumped clear in the first round.  The first rider on course, Charlie Jayne on Chill R Z showed how it was done as he made quick work of the course and posted the first clear.  After several four fault rounds, McLain Ward entered the ring on Antares F and his clear round necessitated a jump off.  The next to go clear was Laura Kraut on Cedric, blazing the small gray horse around the demanding course effortlessly.  Not to be outdone, the very next rider, experienced competitor Margie Engle, went clear on Indigo.  On her last of three mounts, Beezie Madden went clear on Coral Reef Via Volo but elected not to jump off because she was riding Via Volo only for the purpose of Olympic selection and not for placement in the Grand Prix. 

Four returned for the jump off with all eyes were on the clock as Jayne entered the Dixon Oval and again showed the audience how it was done with a second clear round, stopping the clock at 39.93 seconds.  Next up was Ward, who rode the course with his smooth and effortless style, not only displaying masterful equitation but stopping the clock just a bit faster than Jayne at 34.32.  That time would stand as Kraut had an unfortunate rail on Cedric and Engle jumped clear but stopped the clock at 35.28.  In the end, the blue ribbon went to Ward who selflessly tossed it to a child in the audience.  Second place was awarded to Engle, third to Jayne, fourth to Kraut, fifth to Jessica Springsteen , and sixth to Molly Ashe-Cawley. 

Less than an hour earlier, he had stood in the winner’s circle to send off Sapphire and at the end of the night he returned triumphant on Antares F.  So ends one chapter of Devon history for this seven-time Grand Prix winner, and perhaps opens his chapter to the London Olympics.