McLain Ward (USA) capped off the first week of competition with top honors on Sunday, in the $75,000 Bainbridge Companies Grand Prix at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). Ward and Catoki topped four speedy entries with the only double clear effort of the day to claim the title.
Ward and the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Marilla van Beuren, Bob Russell, and Ward challenged a field of 30 entries, putting forth a clear effort over the technical track set by Eric Hasbrouck (USA) to ensure a jump-off. He and Catoki moved swiftly across the shortened course to set the tone for the remaining entries with a fault-free time of 36.846 seconds.
Last to go in the jump-off was Canada’s Erynn Ballard, with two big wins under her belt over the past week. A rail at the second to last jump on course proved to be the difference this time around, landing her in the runner up position in 36.994 seconds with Ilan Ferder’s 10-year-old mare Kamilla D.
It was 16-year-old Grace Debney (USA), who produced the first clear effort of the day with Temple Equestrian’s 10-year-old mare Zarina de Vidau, in just her third career Grand Prix. The youngster was the first to return in the jump-off as well, finishing with just one knockdown in 37.126 seconds to round out the top three.
The remaining competitor in the jump-off was Nick Dello Joio (USA) on Gelvera, a 10-year-old KWPN mare owned by Hi Hopes Farm, LLC. They had four faults in the jump-off, and with a time of 37.652 seconds, finished fourth.
For Ward, the victory with Catoki was a positive step after a difficult outing in Thursday’s Adequan® WEF Challenge Cup Premiere Round.
“You just try to slow him down sometimes,” said Ward. “He goes every time to win. Sometimes when you always go to win the class, it can blow up a little bit once in a while. He’s been a great campaign winner for us and so competitive. I felt like if I rode well, he would perform well today.”
In most cases, Ward sticks to his own game plan but after a fiery start to the week by Ballard, her success crossed his mind.
“I’ve actually come behind her in both jump-offs, and I think tried a little too hard to beat her,” he said. “I thought about that a little bit last night, actually. Catoki, he’s either going to win or be close, particularly at this 1.50m level. He’s a real tiger.”
Ballard, also a regular competitor on WEF’s international stage, felt the pressure coming into the week’s finale.
“I felt so nervous today, more nervous than any other day this week because I felt like everyone was watching and I had to be good,” she said. “My room for error was very small but she made the first round so easy for me. In the jump-off when you’re following McLain, you have to try. She’s green, I’m going fast, and fast and one down kept me second. So, there’s really nothing more I could ask of her this week.”
While Ballard has experienced a great deal of success throughout her career, her results from this past week sit near the top of her long list of accomplishments.
“I had a good week two years ago, at Longines Masters in New York. I won the speed challenge and was third in the grand prix, but you never forget weeks like this,” she stated. “You know that you’re not going to have them every time. You certainly can’t take them for granted.”