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With a win, Ward leaps into the lead on day two of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022

Friday, 08 April 2022
Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Mclain Ward and Contagious won Friday's second round of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022, with the American rider taking the lead on the overall standings. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

After winning the second round of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final 2022, Mclain Ward (USA) has moved to the top of the leader board going into Sunday’s title-deciding competitions in Leipzig, Germany. Ward did two textbook rounds with the wonderful 13-year-old gelding Contagious (Contagio x For Keeps) to take the win in Friday’s jump-off class, and after finishing 5th in Thursday’s first speed leg, the American rider enters Sunday’s final rounds as the leader on a score of zero penalties. 

“Contagious is in brilliant form and yesterday’s fault was on me, the horse would have won both rounds,” said Ward – who was crowned World Cup™ Champion in Omaha in 2017. “I was able to see enough of the jump-off, and it wasn’t actually a very fast jump-off. When Harrie had the fence down, it really opened the door to do just enough but not take too much out of the horse – not only ahead of Sunday but also to risk having a fence down. But Contagious is a quick horse naturally, so one-two was quick and then I slowed in the middle and I thought to the last fence, ‘just stay smooth’ – so I was a little surprised by the difference in time.” 

The last day for the tourists

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Harry Charles finished second with Romeo 88, and sits third on the overall standings tied with Martin Fuchs. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Today’s track proved to be a tough task, and out of the 32 horse-and-rider combinations, seven delivered clears. While the faults were spread out over the thirteen-fence course built by Frank Rothenberger (GER), quite a few got in trouble on the Liverpool oxer at seven flanked by white swan standards, as well as on the last airy Longines upright – with a white plank on top. 

“In this sport nowadays, on the top level, there are no easy days,” Ward commented on the course. “There’s certainly extremely hard days. I would say that yesterday was a friendly speed leg – not free, but friendly. Today, Frank moved it up a couple of notches – with a bunch of big verticals, the triple was big out of the corner with two oxers – and had a great result. Frank has long experience, and he knows how to build a competition and bring out the best, he knows how to challenge without making it too hard on the younger – ok the younger are doing fine here – but less experienced riders and people from different regions where the sport isn’t strong. I think he is very good in that. I remember a famous quote from Frank, “this was the last day for the tourists” – things are going to get bigger.” 

“I thought when we walked the course, that it was the hardest part,” Ward said about the line from fence six to seven and eight, where many got in trouble. “It did not line up very well. You jumped the vertical on a very awkward line to those really spooky standards and then you threw in a Liverpool – and it was all on half strides. If you let your horse cut in, you got there deep and slow, and they were backing up and I think that is why we saw the back rail be a problem. And then, it was five and a bit to the vertical – it was just uncomfortable.” 

Veterans and young guns

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Jack Whitaker and Equine America Valmy de la Lande ended third. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The first rider to post a clear round was defending champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) on Victorio Des Frotards (Barbarian x Prince Ig’Or), who returned with full focus after a disappointing start yesterday. Five riders later it was 66-year-old John Whitaker (GBR), who twice has won the World Cup™ Final, that delighted the crowds with magnificent riding aboard Equine America Unick du Francport (Zandor x Helios de la Cour II) to secure a jump-off. Next in the ring, John’s 20-year-old nephew Jack Whitaker – son of Michael – joined in too, when producing a picture-perfect clear round on Equine America Valmy de la Lande (Mylord Carthago *HN x Starter). 

Gregory Cottard (FRA), the only French rider in the World Cup™ Final, was the next to jump clear on the lovely Bibici (Norman Pre Noir x Nelfo du Mesnil), making it four for the jump-off. One rider later, Great Britain got their third rider in for the jump-off, when 22-year-old Harry Charles jumped clear with Romeo 88 (Contact vd Heffinck x Orlando). 

Within the top ten, only two riders managed to go clear. Harrie Smolders (NED) and Monaco (Cassini II x Contender) did a brilliant round to join the jump-off, as did Mclain Ward and Contagious, who made the course look like a Sunday-stroll through the park. 

For the top four from Thursday, it was not to be. Home hopes were lost when David Will had to see two poles fall to the ground, while Conor Swail (IRL) had the back pole on the Longines oxer at eleven down and Max Kühner (AUT) the plank on the last upright. For Martin Fuchs (SUI) things also did not go according to plan as The Sinner (Sanvaro x Landgold 3) took with him the rails on the Liverpool oxer at seven, leaving his rider unbalanced and without all the reins in his hands. Nevertheless, the Swiss rider somehow managed to stay cool and cleared the rest of the course to finish on only four faults, keeping himself in the top three on the overall standings after being in the lead ahead of today’s round. 

A fighter and trier

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Mclain Ward and Contagious flying to the win. “He is an incredible trier,” Ward said about the 13-year-old gelding. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Guerdat was the first to return for the jump-off, but two poles fell – eventually putting him 7th. Things were looking good for John Whitaker, but unfortunately Unick du Francport took down the top rail on the penultimate upright as did Cottard’s Bibici – leaving the two in 6th and 5th at the end of the class. 

The two British young guns impressed; Jack Whitaker set the first clear in the jump-off, playing it safe with his white stallion to stop the clock at 48.66 seconds while Harry Charles geared up slightly to slot in ahead in 47.14 seconds. As second-last to go, Harrie Smolders did the fastest round of the jump-off in 41.37 seconds, but also he had to see the penultimate vertical fall to the ground – eventually finishing 4th. 

As last to go it was all down to Mclain Ward, known as one of the fastest riders in the world. Ward wasted no time with Contagious, crossing the finish line clear in 44.03 seconds to push Charles down to 2nd and Whitaker to 3rd. 

“He is an incredible trier,” Ward said about Contagious. “I would not have said in the beginning when we first got him that he was going to be a championship horse. He was very careful and a nice Grand Prix horse, but he kept developing and building scope, and ended up jumping the Olympics last year. He outshines what his natural ability was in the beginning, because he is a fighter and that is a great quality. He is a character, a bit spooky and jumpy, but a winner.” 

Just a fence off

 Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Harrie Smolders sits second on the overall standings going into Sunday's final rounds. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Today’s results shook up the overall standings, with Ward as the new leader on a zero penalty score, followed by Smolders who has moved up to sit 2nd with a pole separating him from the American rider. Charles and Fuchs tie in rank three with five penalties each, while Gerrit Nieberg is best of the home riders as rank five on six penalties. It’s tight on top ahead of Sunday’s last two rounds; as rank nine, only two poles separate Jack Whitaker and Jens Fredricson from Ward in the lead.

“I would not have believed that at the start of the day, given my position yesterday,” Harry Charles said about sitting tied in third with Fuchs on the overall ranking after round two. “But that is some pretty good company up there, and good for Sunday. I am a fence off from McLain, so there is still all to play for. My plan ended up quite alright even if yesterday was not what I wanted. I am still happy with my mare, it was my fault yesterday and I am happy to have made up for that today. Romeo is a big jumper, and he has experience – he is my horse for Sunday as well.” 

On his feelings ahead of Sunday, Ward said: “I have been in all positions; I was in the lead twenty years ago and blew it on the last line, I remember it very clearly. I have sat at this position and I have won – I think you take those experiences and try to use them to help you grow and keep your head right. You need to do your job, the horse has to be in form, you need a little good fortune to win one of these championships and I have seen both sides of the coin. I think understanding that helps you keep your head in the right place, but it is a challenge. As I told Harry earlier, don’t think this gets easier in twenty years! My team will do a great job and I am proud of my horse – no matter how it comes out at the end – because he has performed beautifully. We will do our best.” 



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