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Inside the CSIO Spruce Meadows 'Masters' Tournament: With Mclain Ward, Matthew Sampson and Leopoldo Palacios

Saturday, 10 September 2022
CSIO5* Spruce Meadows 'Masters' 2022

McLain Ward and HH Azur capture the Tourmaline Oil Cup

Photo © Spruce Meadows Media/Jack Cusano McLain Ward and HH Azur. Photo © Spruce Meadows Media/Jack Cusano.

 

Press release from Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

 


 

No fewer than 49 horse and rider combinations, including four of the world’s current top-10-ranked riders, contested the highlight class of day two of the CSIO5* Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, the 1.60m Tourmaline Oil Cup. Venezuelan course designer Leopoldo Palacios appeared to have set a tough task, with many of the world’s leading riders unable to negotiate the 12-obstacle course fault-free and progress to the jump-off. However, much to the delight of the International Ring’s crowd, a small flurry of partnerships bucked the trend towards the end of the class, thereby setting up a scintillating six-horse jump-off, which was later reduced to four after Daniel Bluman from Israel and Ladriano Z, and third placed in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, Nicola Philippaerts and Katanga v/h Dingeshof decided not to compete. 

The four duos contesting the final show-down included American McLain Ward and HH Azur, Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping champion and Rolex Testimonee, Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson, fellow Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser from Germany and his 11-year-old stallion, Bingo Ste Hermelle, and Harrie Smolders and his superstar stallion Darry Lou, who knows this arena better than most, having triumphed here in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex in 2019 with previous partner Beezie Madden. 

An eight-fence jump-off awaited the four pairs with Scott Brash first to go, who notched up a double clear in 45.92 seconds. He was followed by McLain Ward, who stormed around the course without a fault, beating Brash’s time by over five seconds. That left Deusser and Smolders, who both went clear, but neither were able to better the American’s unassailable lead, with the German slotting into second place and the Dutchman finishing third. 

Thrilled with his win and his 16-year-old mare, McLain Ward, commented: “Horses understand the importance and the energy differently than we do. I think these great horses sense the atmosphere and want to do well and want to please and want to rise to the occasion. She walked up to the gate today and she raises her head, her eyes are right on the arena, ears pricked, this horse is pulling me in to go and do the job, so she understands it in some ways for sure.”

Looking ahead to Sunday’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex and how he will prepare himself, Ward, said: “I have enough experience now. I just try to focus on my job and believing in our plan and believing in the horse, and you need a bit of good fortune also.”

Rider interview: Matthew Sampson

Photo © Spruce Meadows Media/Mike Sturk Matthew Sampson. Photo © Spruce Meadows Media/Mike Sturk.

You’ve had some amazing successes here at Spruce Meadows – what makes it such a special place to compete at?

I came here for the first time last year and then again this year for the Summer Series, which has been fantastic. I’ve been lucky enough to win two 5* Grands Prix with two different horses. The horses just grow here and the facilities are the best in the world, so I’m just very grateful to be able to ride at this show. 

Which horses will you be competing with this week at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?

For the 5* I’ve got two horses including Ebolensky, who won the 5* here last week, and then I’ve got Fabrice DN, who will be doing the Grand Prix [CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex], so that’s my plan. They’re both super horses, both very different. One’s owned by Luis Alejandro Plascencia from Mexico, and the other one is owned by me and the Evison family in England. Both horses are great and I’m looking forward to a good week.

You and Fabrice DN won the RBC Grand Prix of Canada CSI 5* in June and you gave a lot of credit to your team. Tell us how important your team is to your successes…

I couldn’t be doing any of it without them – Kate, Brad, my girlfriend Kara and all the guys at home. Alongside those people, I can’t forget my owners and my parents, who brought me up to do this. Often it’s not talked about enough but there’s a massive team behind me who get these horses feeling as good as they can for the day.

Walk the course with: Leopoldo Palacios

Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof. Leopoldo Palacios. Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof.

What’s a typical day for you like at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?

I normally get up at 6am, arriving at the showground at 7am. I will finish quite late tonight, at around midnight, as I have to wait for the ATCO Six Bar to finish, after which I’ll build tomorrow morning’s course. I’ll then arrive here early tomorrow morning to put some finishing touches to the course, which is all part of my job.

Away from course designing, what are your passions?

My main passion is horses. I love horses. The other thing I like is deep-sea fishing for marlin and tuna, which my father also loved. But just fishing for them, not swimming with them! My family used to have a special fishing boat, which my father would use for competitions in Venezuela. Towards the end of my father’s life, after he finished farming, he would go fishing, and I would go with him, so that’s how my love of fishing started. My home country, Venezuela, is an absolute paradise for fishing marlin, and also the Caribbean. That life runs very much in parallel to my course designing career. 

What advice would you give to someone young who wants to become a professional course designer?

The first piece of advice I would give them is that you have to love horses. I would also tell them that you need to have passion and not be driven by money, as this is not a job for money. You can absolutely survive and I have a good life; but this job is all about loving the horses and having passion for the sport. 

 


 

About the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

 


 

The Rolex Grand Slam is considered by the sport to be the ultimate equestrian challenge, primarily due to the sporting prowess required to achieve this feat. It is a quest taken on by the world’s top riders, vying to secure the legendary status associated with winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

The format of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is simple: anyone who wins three Majors in a row receives the Rolex Grand Slam trophy and a €1 million bonus on top of the class’s prize-money. If that same rider then continues their success by winning a fourth Major in succession, they will be rewarded with an additional €1million bonus. If two shows are won in succession, the bonus is €500,000 or if an athlete wins only 2 majors in a period of four successive shows, the bonus is €250,000.



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