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Home heroes McLain Ward and HH Azur win first leg of Longines FEI World Cup Final in Omaha

Friday, 31 March 2017
2017 Longines FEI World Cup Final

Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. McLain Ward and the amazing HH Azur en route to victory in the first round of the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Omaha. Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

The first round of the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Omaha had it all: Excitement, surprises, unexpected exits and a home hero taking the win as title-favourites McLain Ward and the wonderful HH Azur emerged victorious after a spectacular round.

From the outset, the track build by course designer Alan Wade didn’t look too difficult – just right as an opening Table C round. But, as the class progressed the combination set as fence seven – with an oxer in and a vertical with water under out – turned into become a big problem for many of the riders. Some horses spooked on the water at the b-element, but it was actually the a-element that fell the most.

“We’re very lucky to have Santi (Santiago Varela) and Alan (Wade), the two very best course designers here. They put the test in front of you and they’re not afraid to put up big fences but they make subtle problems that always have a solution. Nothing tricky, Alan’s track always rides smoothly if you solve the test,” said McLain Ward after the competition. 

The first rider to clear the course was Martin Fuchs (SUI) with Clooney (Cornet Obolensky x Ferragamo) – starting as no. 6. The two of them pulled off a great round in 61,37 seconds. Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) with his spicy Arrayan (Baloubet du Rouet x Grannus) followed Fuchs with a clear round in 62,05 seconds. Home hope Todd Minikus (USA) on the other hand finished the course with a surprising 16 faults after a round where his Babalou (Balou du Rouet x Silvio I) didn’t seem quite himself.

It was not only Minikus that did not have the best of days. Max Kühner (SUI) was one of those that had a long trip to Omaha for nothing when Cornet Kalua (Cornet Obolensky x Platin) after fence no. three decided it was enough and blocked in the corner. Kühner later got company from Audrey Coulter (USA) on Capital Colnardo (Colman x Coronado), who unfortunately suffered a fall after coming a bit far off the second last fence – leaving Capital Colnardo sticking his legs in between the poles clearing the fence but pushing Coulter out of the saddle and also out of the final. Karl Cook (USA) was another rider to get in trouble, for him it was the combination at no. seven that turned out to become a problem – Cook opted to retire and became the third rider that is out of the final after day one.

Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. Henrik von Eckermann and Mary Lou continued their top form to end second. Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

Simon Delestre (FRA) on the other hand delivered the next clear round riding Chadino (Chacco-Blue x Narew xx). Then it was time for the Grand Prix winners of Den Bosch – Leopold van Asten (NED) and VDL Groep Zidane N.O.P. (Heartbreaker x Calando I). The two of them had managed to bring their top form from Den Bosch over the Atlantic, delivering a beautiful clear round taking over the lead in 60,71 seconds. Another rider doing a great round was Romain Duguet (SUI) with Twentytwo des Biches (Mylord Carthago x Kalor du Bocage) eventually finish off as no. six. 

There was no doubt that McLain Ward (USA) was in for the win on home soil, and after some amazing jumping from the 11-year-old mare HH Azur (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui vd Zuuthoeve) – team silver medalist at the Olympic Games in Rio –  they broke the 60 second mark and took over the lead in 59,27 seconds to standing ovations from the crowds who honoured their performance.

The only 21-year-old Guido Klatte Jr. and his Qinghai (Quidam de Revel x Cordalme) showed some real fighting spirit, clearing the course before it was time for Gregory Wathelet and his new-old ride Forlap (Querlybet Hero x Heartbreaker). The two of them made their comeback together in December, but it looks like they were never separated – they finished the course in 60,36 going into second place. 

Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. Steve Guerdat is up for a third consecutive title, and lived up to the expectations on the wonderful mare Bianca to finish as no. three. Photo (c) Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

Kevin Staut (FRA) went to Omaha to win, and set off in a quick pace already from the beginning riding his veteran Reveur de Hurtebise HDC (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Capricieux des 6 Censes). However, the a-element of the combination at no. 10 fell to the ground and pushed the French favourite down the ranks.

Defending champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) is up for his third consecutive title, and a place in the history books. The 2012 Olympic Champion did not disappoint, and took over the runner-up position from his best friend Wathelet after some brilliant jumping from his scopey mare Bianca (Balou du Rouet x Cardento). “I’m happy with my position and the way my horse jumped. She felt very good but I think we have the right winner. I’m happy for McLain today. We knew he would be the man to beat this week and I hope we have a good fight to the finish!” said Guerdat. 

A few riders later Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and Mary Lou (Montendro x Portland L) delivered a perfect round to push Guerdat down to third, and Wathelet down to fourth with their time of 59.58 seconds – becoming the only pair of the competition next to the winning couple to break the 60-second-mark. "It should have been seven strides there but I did it in eight, and that was the whisker I think!” Von Eckermann said after referring to his choice of strides between the second and third fence. 

However, nobody could come close to touch the duo of McLain Ward and HH Azur who now are in pole position ahead of Friday’s second round of the Longines FEI World Cup Final. 

Click here for full results.

Click here for the overall standings after the first leg.


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

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