McLain Ward (USA) continued to ride his recent wave of success Thursday at Deeridge Farms, piloting the swift 11-year-old Westphalian gelding Catoki to the top of the $36,600 CSI5* Suncast Welcome Stake, part of the Palm Beach Open CSI5*/CSI2*.
The duo topped a strong field of 44 competitors, jumping just past the halfway mark of the class and holding strong throughout the remaining entries. Their final time over Alan Wade's (IRL) 1.45m speed track was 57.91 seconds. Jessica Springsteen (USA) and Volage du val Henry gave good chase to finish second on 59.00 seconds, with Ben Maher (GBR) and Tic Tac just behind them in third (59.29 seconds).
The win marked Ward's third with the horse, who stands just 15.2 hands high, in international competition since acquiring the gelding last November. He considers the bay to be among the fastest horses he's ever ridden.
"He doesn’t have the hugest stride, and the lines weren’t very long, so that helped a little bit. He’s just so naturally quick across the ground," Ward said. "To be frank, you’re almost slowing down in a few places [so] that he doesn’t get away from you. He’s just naturally an incredibly fast horse."
Ward, who has recorded three five-star grand prix victories since Feb. 8, will seek his fourth this week, as he brings back Noche de Ronda to Deeridge Farms for the first time since he and the mare topped the $213,300 CSIO5* Longines Grand Prix on Feb. 14.
"Ronda" will contest Friday's $72,900 CSI5* Palm Beach Masters Qualifier, while Catoki will jump again in Friday's $36,600 CSI5* NetJets Speed Challenge.
"It’s been a great start to the season. We have great horses and great people, and everybody’s been going really well," Ward said. "Sometimes, especially down here in Florida, you get a little bit on a run, good or bad—I’ve been on both—and we’re just going to try to keep it going and stay focused and look at the next event."