McLain Ward's mount Zander proved that he is coming into his own in the grand prix ring on Sunday. The nine-year-old gelding was purchased by Ward of Brewster, New York and Grant Road Partners a year and a half ago and picked up several respectable wins over the last year, the most recent being this weekend's $75,000 AIG Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, at HITS Saugerties. Behind Ward, Kevin Babington of Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania was second with his own Mark Q, and Peter Wylde of Lake Worth, Florida finished third aboard Societe Civile de L'Ecurie Meautry's Zorro.
Olaf Petersen, Sr. of Paehl, Germany set a course of 13 obstacles and 16 jumping efforts for a field of 42 contenders. The combinations proved the most technical element of the course with a one-stride vertical to an oxer double appearing early in the course and a triple at fence ten, which included two oxers with a plank in the middle, separated by one stride and then two.
"The course was challenging and the conditions were a little unexpected as it turned out to be quite humid, but the footing held up great," said Ward. "Zander started the course very spooky, but settled and had a few careful jumps at the end – he was great at the plank in the triple."
The first round saw a scattering of clear efforts, but it was McLain and Zander, in a moment of foreshadowing, who were first to crack Petersen's code and ride clear. He was later joined by six others for a seven-horse jump-off.
McLain returned first, often a nerve-racking place to be in a jump-off. "It was actually a nice spot for me. Zander is a really fast horse and sometimes when I start watching others go I only do just enough or start changing my plan," admitted Ward. "Today I had no option but to go in and put up the best round I could and leave up all the jumps up. I tend to focus better that way and he [Zander] responded well."
Ward and Zander commenced the jump-off with an early Great American Time to Beat that, despite the efforts of six other riders, would eventually go untouched. Their time was 40.37 seconds.
Ward admits that Zander, the young gelding he purchased with an eye on the future, is well on his way to the top. "His jumping style is spectacular; he has beautiful technique and is a very careful horse. He has had to learn how to use himself – he used to go in the ring and over jump the first part of the course and tire early, but he is starting to jump every jump the same, which will be the key to his long term success," said Ward.
Karen Polle of New York, New York did her best to clinch a two-win streak after riding her own With Wings to the blue in Friday's $25,000 SmartPak Grand Prix, presented by Zoetis, but saw trouble at the oxer element of the double combination. She finished with eight faults. Todd Minikus of Loxahatchee, Florida and his own Quality Girl had the speed, but also picked up eight jumping faults to finish with a time of 39.54 seconds.
Michael Hughes of Allendale, New Jersey, Babington of Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania and Wylde of Lake Worth, Florida were all clear, but couldn't catch the clock. Babington finished second with his own Mark Q in a time of 43.51 seconds, Wylde rode to 43.82 seconds for third with Societe Civile de L'Ecurie Meautry's Zorro and Hughes piloted Christina Fried's Mac Arthur to fourth in a time of 47.10 seconds.
The only four-fault round was posted by Darragh Kenny of Wellington, Florida aboard Postage Stamp Farm, LLC's Prof De La Roque. They finished fifth, with Minikus sixth and Polle seventh.
Source:Press release from HITS, Inc.
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