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Absolutely amazing: HH Azur and McLain Ward are the 2017 World Cup Champions

Monday, 03 April 2017
2017 Longines FEI World Cup Final

Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. McLain Ward celebrating his World Cup Champion-title in Omaha with HH Azur. Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

McLain Ward and HH Azur kept their cool on the last day of the Longines FEI World Cup Final, jumped two beautiful clear rounds and were crowned 2017 World Cup Champions on an emotional Sunday night in Omaha.

It was a night to remember for Ward and his team, as the American 41-year-old took his most prestigious individual title to date – together with one of the most loved horses on the international jumping circuit.

The two won Thursday’s opening leg, as well as Friday’s second part of the competition and went double clear in Sunday’s concluding rounds – finishing on a clean sheet after three days of jumping.

Alan Wade (IRL) set two very well build tracks for the horses and riders; in the end a total of seven combinations out of the initial 26 went double clear. Faults spread out in round one over the thirteen-fence track, but as predicted many came in trouble on the last line consisting of a vertical to a big oxer with a green hedge under leading to an upright with a water tray after five forward – for a few six short – strides on a bend line. Also the triple combination caught out a few, set tall and then massive at 10a, b and c. 

Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. Vice-Champion Romain Duguet on Twentytwo des Biches. Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

Following clear rounds from Lorenzo De Luca (ITA), Kevin Staut (FRA), Simon Delestre (FRA), Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and Leopold van Asten (NED) – Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) posted the next faultless performance putting pressure on those to come with his total of nine penalties overall.

Reigning Champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) had the middle-part of the triple combination down on the flashy 11-year-old mare Bianca (Balou du Rouet x Cardento), that still is gaining experience at the highest level of the sport – putting them on a score of twelve penalties overall ahead of the last round.

Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) also has an inexperienced partner in the 11-year-old mare Mary Lou (Montendro x Portland L), but that did not prevent the two from posting another clear round – going into the lead on a score of eight penalties.

Following a rail down each for the two young guns Guido Klatte Jr. (GER) and Martin Fuchs (SUI), Romain Duguet (SUI) took another less-experienced mare to new heights when guiding Twentytwo des Biches (Mylord Carthago x Kalor du Bocage) to a clear round – taking over the lead with his overall score of four penalties. The pressure was on for Gregory Wathelet (BEL) and Forlap (Querlybet Hero x Heartbreaker), sitting second overall on three penalties – unfortunately the gelding came in cross-canter out of the corner to the combination set as fence four and had the a-element down putting the two on seven penalties overall.

As last to go, McLain Ward had the opportunity to keep his lead if posting another clear round – and even had space for a few time faults. The home hero delivered again on HH Azur (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui vd Zuuthoeve) – an 11-year-old mare that calls for the big superlatives – sticking to his pole position ahead of round two. 

Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. Henrik von Eckermann and Mary Lou ended third. Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

Twelve fences and fifteen efforts waited for the horses and riders in the second round. After double clears from Lorenzo de Luca, Kevin Staut and Maikel van der Vleuten the riders on the top of the leader board had a clear indication of how the second-round-track jumped, and when Steve Guerdat produced a stunning clear on Bianca finishing on his score of twelve there was no room for error from those to come.

Guido Klatte Jr. – only 21-years-old – impressed with his fighting spirit to ride another clear on Qinghai (Quidam de Revel x Cordalme) finishing as the best German in 6th position overall on eleven penalty points. Both Sergio Alvarez Moya on the fiery Arrayan (Baloubet du Rouet x Grannus) and Martin Fuchs (SUI) on Clooney (Cornet Obolensky x Ferragamo) kept the fences intact, slotting in ahead of Klatte Jr. on nine penalties each – but where quickly overtaken by Henrik von Eckermann as next rider in the ring on the lovely Mary Lou as the two posted yet another clear to take over the lead on a total score of eight.

Gregory Wathelet had the chance to slot into a podium position with his wonderful Forlap, that he was reunited with in December 2016 after two and a half years apart – but unfortunately a pole fell in the middle of the triple combination and the two were left on a total of eleven penalties.

As the Final drew towards a close, only two riders could do anything about Von Eckermann and the first one was Romain Duguet. With yet another amazing performance, the 36-year-old Swiss rider stayed calm and collected to jump clear on Twentytwo de Biches – although he was lucky when the top pole of the upright at no. five stayed in the cups – taking over the lead. 

One could touch the suspension as McLain Ward entered the ring on HH Azur, the air was thick with expectations and hopes of a home victory as the two set off on one of the most important rounds of their career so far. HH Azur made light work of the course though, and as two fences remained the crowds held their breath – some unable to watch even – but they pair flew over the penultimate vertical and then the last oxer and in a combined sigh-of-relief and pure happiness Ward let go of the reins, lifted his hands in the air and finished off by giving his incredible mare a well-deserved kiss for taking the 2017-World Cup title home after three days of flawless jumping. 


Text © World of Showjumping / Pictures © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping

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