A total of 20 entries tried their luck over the track set by British course designer Richard Jeffery in front of a sold-out crowd in the Ricoh Coliseum. More forgiving than in previous nights’ competition, Jeffery laid a track that saw eight horse-rider combinations advance to the all-deciding jump-off.
When Ward entered the Ricoh Coliseum, Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts held the jump-off lead with a clear round in a time of 42.03 seconds riding H&M Legend of Love. Wasting no time around the short course, Ward guided HH Azur home in a time of 40.42 seconds to move to the top of the leaderboard. Fellow American Reed Kessler challenged Ward’s time with Cylana, but the clock told the final tale, with a time of 41.44 seconds placing her second between Ward and Philippaerts.
“Honestly, as a rider doing this my whole life, you never think a horse like this exists,” said Ward of HH Azur, who made a huge effort at the final fence to take the win. “Most horses would have fallen down at that last fence. The take-off was 15 feet away, I bet. It’s not that I was surprised she jumped it; I was just surprised how easy it was. The jump-off was exciting, which is great for the crowd.”
Ward enjoyed an exceptional week of competition at the Royal Horse Show, winning a total of four international classes - two riding HH Azur and two with his newest mount, Carneyhaugh Manx - and was awarded the title of Leading International Rider. He and HH Azur, a nine-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Thunder Van De Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui) owned by Double H Farm, also won Wednesday night’s $132,000 Longines FEI World Cup.
“The World Cup was the most difficult one we’ve seen all season, which I was excited about with this horse,” said Ward, 40, of Brewster, NY. “I really wanted to challenge her, and what a great way to end the year!”
Runner-up Kessler was thrilled with her 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare’s performance. “She was fantastic,” said Kessler, 21, who is based in Germany. “I’m really lucky; I have a super experienced horse and she’s really brave and honest. She always wants to do her best, so in that respect I have it easy. They’ve been difficult courses all week by Richard; you need a horse that looks for the fence and is really brave.
“I love The Royal,” continued Kessler, who is competing at the Royal Horse Show for the second time in her young career. “It’s a super show and has great atmosphere. They do their best for the horses and the riders here, and it’s always great to come to a show that is like that.”
With Kessler second and Philippaerts taking third, New York’s Georgina Bloomberg took fourth place. The first rider on course, Bloomberg posted a clear round in a time of 45.66 seconds riding Caleno 3. Nicola Philippaerts, twin brother to Olivier, had four faults in the jump-off to place fifth riding H&M Harley vd Bisschop. Jonathon Millar was the top Canadian, taking sixth place with a rail down and two time faults riding his father’s 2012 London Olympic Games mount, Star Power. Two-time Olympic team gold medalist Beezie Madden of the United States had eight faults in the jump-off, as did New Zealand’s Sharn Wordley riding Barnetta, to finish seventh and eighth respectively.