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“This is the dream”: Ward and the wonderful HH Azur win the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva

Sunday, 11 December 2022
CHI Geneva 2022

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “This is our life, this is what we live, this is the dream,” Mclain Ward said after taking one of the biggest wins of his career this afternoon at CHI Geneva with the 16-year-old HH Azur. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping 

 


 

“This is our life, this is what we live, this is the dream,” Mclain Ward said after taking one of the biggest wins of his career this afternoon at CHI Geneva, when he and the wonderful 16-year-old mare HH Azur snatched the victory in the CHF 1.200.000 Rolex Grand Prix from home hero Martin Fuchs who had come to Palexpo to defend his 2021-title. 

“I think for all of us in this sport, we aspire to these very special events – Geneva, Aachen, Calgary, Rome – those were the events I grew up dreaming of, jumping in our backyard, pretending to win,” Ward said. “This story is particularly special because Azur is a horse that is owned part by Hunter Harrison and his family – who was a great mentor and supporter of mine and that is no longer with us, and a great supporter of the sport – and Francois Mathy who is like a father to me, and he was here today which was very special. I have to say that at the end of last year, I thought her career was probably coming to an end – she didn’t feel in great form, and it seemed like we were in the sunset. But she has been reborn this year, she feels incredibly healthy, and she jumped seven major Grand Prixs – three of which were Grand Slam events – and clear in all seven, other than a time fault by the rider.”

Extraordinary sport

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Flying to the win: Mclain Ward and HH Azur. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

It was a day of extraordinary sport at CHI Geneva, with the world’s very best horses and riders at start – all of them on the hunt to become the next live contender in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping and to write history as the winner of the prestigious Grand Prix at the 61st edition of this traditional event. 

The first-round track designed by Gérard Lachat (SUI) and Louis Konickx (NED) saw thirteen of the 40 horse-and-rider combinations at start answer all the questions asked. The double of liverpools at 6ab caught out many of the competitors, including home hero Steve Guerdat (SUI) and his future super-star Dynamix de Belheme (Snaike de Blondel x Cornet Obolensky), and the penultimate double of uprights also proved to be decisive – Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and King Edward (Edward 28 x Feo) as well as Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Caracole de La Roque (Zandor Z x Kannan) were among those who got in trouble here.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei had to settle for the runner-up position, after winning the 2021-edition of the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The first clear came from the relatively new partnership of Ben Maher (GBR) and Dallas Vegas Batilly (Cap Kennedy x L’Arc de Triomphe), and when Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender Daniel Deusser (GER) and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z (Tangelo vd Zuuthoeve x Mr. Blue) also left all the fences up, a jump-off was secured. Two riders later, reigning European Champions Andre Thieme (GER) and DSP Chakaria (Chap 47 x Askari 173) also joined in, as did Andreas Schou (DEN) with his consistent Darc de Lux (Darco x Contender). The most spectacular clear round of all however, came from Simon Delestre (FRA) and his little professor Cayman Jolly Jumper (Hickstead x Quaprice Bois Margot) who seems to have an eye in each hoof – jumping another flawless round after finishing second in Friday’s Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final.

Rising star Gilles Thomas (BEL) impressed too, when making it six for the jump-off with a beautiful clear on Calleryama (Casall x Contender), followed by clears from heavyweights Kevin Staut (FRA) on Scuderia 1918 Viking d’La Rousserie (Quaprice Bois Margot x Apache d’Adriers) and Christian Alhmann (GER) on Dominator 2000 Z (Diamant de Semilly x San Patrignano Cassini), as well as Shane Sweetnam (IRL) on the powerhouse James Kann Cruz (Kannan x Cruising). Home favourites Elian Baumann (SUI) and Little Lumpi E (Lordanos x Polydor) made Palexpo explode when posting the first Swiss clear round, and the celebrations continued when Martin Fuchs (SUI) followed up one rider later with a clear on the magnificent Leone Jei (Baltic VDL x Corland). Making it thirteen for the jump-off were Daniel Bluman (ISR) on Ladriano Z (Lawito x Baloubet du Rouet), and Mclain Ward (USA) on HH Azur (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui vd Zuuthoeve) who secured himself the advantage of being the very last to go.

In it to win it

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I wanted to win, to beat any of these guys is a great feat. I wanted to not let the horse down, and it’s a great day,” Ward said after his victory was a fact. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The first clear in the jump-off came from second to go Daniel Deusser – live contender in Geneva – who posted a quick round aboard the bouncy Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z to stop the clock in 42.58 seconds. As next out, Andre Thieme could not catch Deusser and crossed the finish line in 44.90 seconds. Andreas Schou jumped a second clear too, but could also not do anything about Deusser.

Next in the ring, Delestre and Cayman Jolly Jumper impressed again when shaving off 0.12 seconds on Deusser’s leading time – slotting in on top of the preliminary standings. However, Delestre’s lead did not last for long, as next to go Gilles Thomas rode an absolutely incredible round. Leaving out strides, then taking all the risk when really tightening his way around to the liverpool combination, and flying to the last, the 24-year-old had brought the time down to an unbelievable 40.88 seconds. It looked hard, if not impossible to beat. Two riders later however, Shane Sweenam’s 9-year-old James Kann Cruz showed why he is on everyone’s lips, blazing around to a time of 40.48 seconds – setting a new time to beat. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ The third place went to the super-talented 9-year old James Kann Cruz, and Shane Sweetnam. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

You could hear a pin drop when the thundering applause for Martin Fuchs – third last to go – had silenced in Palexpo. And the home hero did not disappoint. Blazing down on seven strides to the second fence of the jump-off, it was clear Fuchs was on a mission. Cheered on as he approached the last line, it again exploded as the world no. three and title defender had done the seemingly impossible: The clock showed 39.77 seconds. Fuchs punched the air in delight, with his team celebrating on the Kiss-and-Cry. 

When Bluman had the front pole on the former 6a down, it was only one nervous wait left for Fuchs – but with one of the fastest and most precise riders in the world coming in, the Swiss rider must have been biting his nails watching. 

And Ward was in it to win it. Like Fuchs, he did seven strides down to the second jump – as if it was an equitation class – then doing one of his trademark turns back to the next oxer, before again picking up his canter. Tightening his line to the combination, Ward looked determined to catch Fuchs and as soon as he had hit the ground he was by the penultimate upright, before giving everything to the final oxer – but for a moment time stood still as Azur added an extra stride, choosing nine in the very last second, rather than the eight Ward was pushing for. Nevertheless, the incredible mare cleared it and crossing the finish line the two had secured another big win in the 16-year-old mare’s long and illustrious career – the clock had stopped on 38.43 seconds. As Ward looked to the screen, the emotions were written on his face – he had pushed Fuchs to second and Sweetnam to third. “I was emotional; I wanted to win, to beat any of these guys is a great feat. I wanted to not let the horse down, and it’s a great day,” Ward said after his victory was a fact. 

Pretty remarkable

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Eyes on the prize: Mclain Ward is the new live contender in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping after winning the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva with HH Azur. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Both of these gentlemen did not leave me much option,” smiled Ward when speaking about his jump-off – looking to Fuchs and Sweetnam. “All the leave-outs were taken, you had to do seven down the first line – and it walked a very long eight. The rollback was difficult, it happened to show up well – which it didn’t for everybody. Six and seven – I actually did not get the second seven, she landed a little bit to the right, I took a huge risk to the double, I don’t know if I did less than Martin but anyway the same. Then I knew you could do eight and eight, but the problem was the first eight was so sideways to the yellow and black fence that the horses twisted a little bit but I was committed to the eight to the last. I said ‘don’t chicken out, you don’t want to be there and pull’ but the more I pushed, the more she backed up and I said ‘don’t chicken out, don’t chicken out’, but then she chickened out for me a little and somehow got over the fence! When I realized it was still standing I was a little bit shocked to be honest!”

“It was really an emotional day with the goodbye of Clooney and after the ceremony I was able to really focus on the Rolex Grand Prix,” runner-up Fuchs said. “Leone Jei always jumps great in this ring and I knew that the course suited me well. In the jump-off, I tried to take all the risk I could to make the triple – but then Mclain had a different idea for today.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "This story is particularly special because Azur is a horse that is owned part by Hunter Harrison and his family – who was a great mentor and supporter of mine and that is no longer with us, and a great supporter of the sport – and Francois Mathy who is like a father to me, and he was here today which was very special," Ward said – here with Mathy on the podium. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I think I’m incredibly lucky to have him,” third-placed Sweetnam said of James Kann Cruz. “I got him last year as an 8-year-old, he is Irish-bred by the Connollys in Galway. We have had a great partnership from the start. Like I said, the reason I came to this show – because it is such a special show – you see the standard is incredible, the horses are all special and the riders are all at the top of their game, but I feel with this horse that I can really compete with these guys. In the jump-off, I went as fast as I could and I was leading coming out of the ring which is all you can ask. Then the guys went another step – especially Mclain – and it was great sport!”

Ward was in awe of his faithful partner HH Azur. “Before the first round of a big Grand Prix, now at this point of her career, I always give her a pat on her neck, and say 'you don’t owe anyone a fence but if you can jump another clear round today it would be nice'. And I really have this feeling for this wonderful mare,” Ward said, visibly emotional. “When I got on for the jump-off, I actually said to her, 'it is only one more round, give me what you’ve got, and if you don’t have enough, it’s ok too'. And the last fence, she jumped out of the boots, which is pretty remarkable!” 

Now Ward looks towards writing more history, at The Dutch Masters in Den Bosch, the Netherlands, as the new live contender in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. 

 

No reproduction without permission, copyright World of Showjumping



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