Two-time U.S. Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward won his third CSI5* in two weeks by taking top call in the $401,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI5* riding his 2016 Olympic mount, HH Azur, during “Saturday Night Lights” on February 22, at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, FL.
Santiago Varela (ESP), who has been tapped to set the tracks at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, was the course designer for the Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix, which welcomed six contenders from three different countries to a tie-breaking jump-off.
Continuing a banner month that included the birth of his second daughter, Madison, Ward is riding a wave of success and a little bit of luck.
“It’s been a pretty incredible few weeks. My team is doing an amazing job,” said Ward, who also won the Fidelity Investments® Grand Prix CSI5* during WEF five riding Noche de Ronda. “I’m lucky to have phenomenal horses and owners, to be able to have multiple horses that can win at this level. If we’re really honest with ourselves, sometimes you can do nothing right, and sometimes you can do nothing wrong. We’re in one of those streaks, and we’re going to enjoy it and try to keep doing our best.”
Of the two riders who jumped double clear, Ward and HH Azur, a 14-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui) owned by Ward and Double H Farm, utilized “Annie’s” massive stride and foot speed to stop the clock at 39.85 seconds. The time proved more than good enough to top Ireland’s Capt. Brian Cournane riding his own Penelope Cruz in 44.19 seconds. The podium was rounded out by Alex Granato (USA), who had the time to beat Ward but pulled a single rail with Page Tredennick’s Carlchen W to settle on four faults in 38.87 seconds.
HH Azur is making a comeback from a minor injury that sidelined her during the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona in the fall of 2019. “Tonight, she felt great,” said Ward. She’s getting a little older, has jumped a lot of big jumps in her life, and been an incredible partner. You count your jumps at this stage in a career. We stopped for the year after Barcelona, but we kept her in light work.”
Ward’s plan came to fruition on Saturday, and HH Azur appears to be back in the game. “Once I got through the double, I took a touch off coming home. For sure I left a little room, but a lot of times you can lose it before you get started, and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “For me, Santi is one of the best [course designers] in the world. He’s a horseman course builder, and I think he’s going to do a brilliant job at the Olympic Games.”
Capt. Cournane is now in his third year piloting Penelope Cruz, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Ustinov x Peter Pan), and stepped the mare up to the five-star level just two weeks ago at WEF. “She’s been jumping great in 1.50m league on Sundays,” he said. “Tonight, she really felt on form and jumped great.
Granato made his way onto the podium beside Ward and Cournane despite some last-minute wavering in his jump-off plan. “I had definitely walked the inside turn to the double during the course walk, and I was planning it,” he said. “But, it didn’t go well for Eduardo, I saw Brian go around. I looked at it two or three times once I was in the ring. I was a little unsure, but as soon as I started, [Carlchen W] felt really with me. If anything I got in his way. He turned so well into it, and I pushed a little bit out to give him a little extra help and caused the rail at B.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Romeo 88 took fourth place with a four-fault jump-off round in 39.30 seconds for fellow owner Ann Thompson, while Brazil’s Eduardo Menezes capped the top five riding Magnolia Mystic Rose with four faults in 40.10 seconds or owner Rm Agronegocios Eireli. Returning last over the short course, Daniel Coyle (IRL) finished sixth with two poles hitting the ground in a time of 43.36 seconds aboard Legacy, owned by Ariel Grange.