It is no secret that Olympian McLain Ward has been on a hot streak recently, racking up six major victories from New York to Rome in just three weeks. The $50,000 Devon Welcome Stake CSI4* proved to be no exception as Ward rode away with the top two spots, winning the event aboard Tina La Boheme and placing second with his reigning Pan American Games double gold medalist mount, Rothchild.
"I think Devon is one of the greatest venues in America," expressed Ward, who also won the same event in 2015. "The atmosphere here on grand prix night is second to nowhere. The crowd is an educated crowd, and they really appreciate it. They are very enthusiastic. I think the management here at Devon has really made great efforts with the facility. Everything is first class. "
Thirty-eight entries turned out for the first FEI ranked event of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair on Tuesday evening. Six of those were able to master the Kelvin Bywater track and return for the tiebreaker. Ali Wolff was the pathfinder during the jump-off, setting the pace to beat with Quirie 2 in a clear 39.51 seconds.
"My trainer, Michelle Grubb, knows me so well - we've been together for about 12 years," said Wolff. "Pretty much every time she tells me to go my own speed. I am so competitive, and I am my own worst enemy. If McLain went before me I probably would not be sitting here. I try and ride the horse underneath me."
Wolff added, "Quirie was my third string horse. He was struggling to get around the 1.40m last year. I just have to keep taking a step back, and I am very proud of where he's come. He's stepped up to my first horse. He went to Mexico with me and really, really put on his big boy pants. Since then he's been super confident, and I can't say enough about him."
Wolff's lead did not last long as Ward entered the ring next with Tina La Boheme. With sharp turns and a speedy gallop they bested Wolff by almost three seconds when they crossed the finish line in a faultless 36.73 seconds. Molly Ashe Cawley and Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve attempted to catch Ward, but had to settle for fourth place when they had a rail in the combination.
Ward was next in the jump-off order with his second mount Rothchild, and after a short break in the action to prepare, they returned to the ring. Knowing he had a good lead, Ward was a bit more conservative, but still laid down a fast and clear round in just 39.18 seconds to take over second place, while Wolff would place third.
Ward laughed, "Rothchild doesn't like horses jumping next to him, he doesn't like horses jumping at him, he doesn't like gray horses, he doesn't like carriages. There are a lot of things to avoid here! The schooling area can be interesting, but he is what he is. I didn't have very long, but I am not going to rush him. I only jumped four or five jumps. You can't go fast. You have to really take your time."
Rothchild was a horse found by Ward's father Barney, and he has always had a special place in Ward's heart. Tina La Boheme also has a special place in Ward's heart, as he owns the talented young mare together with his father's old friend Arthur Hawkins.
"Arty Hawkins is a great horseman and a member of the Show Hunter Hall of Fame, a dear friend of my dad," explained Ward. "He was there when I was born. He owns the majority; I own a small piece of her. Last year he said if you ever see a nice horse I'd like to do something. This is the horse."
Tina La Boheme also has a unique tie to the Devon Horse Show, as she is related to the 2008 Grand Prix winner Night Train. "Tina and Night Train are both quite strong, but good jumpers, really good technique, careful but at the same time quite brave," noted Ward. "It's nice, I have a soft spot in my heart for Night Train. I bought him and rode him in the beginning, so I've had a lot of luck with that breeding."
Ward and Tina La Boheme will return to the Dixon Oval Thursday night for the $225,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon CSI4*. The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair is the longest running and largest outdoor multi-breed competition in the United States. With the grandeur of Philadelphia's prestigious Main Line setting the stage, the event features a world-class field that annually ranks among the most prominent internationally. The event also includes the Country Fair that offers world-class shopping, rides and games for kids, multiple dining options and special entertainment events.
Source: Press release from Phelps Media Group // Picture © Rebecca Walton
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