WELLINGTON, Fla.– McLain Ward continued his impressive parade of victories at the Winter Equestrian Festival with two more wins during week nine of the 12 week competition.
There have been three CSI 5* $132,000 WEF Challenge Cups at this year's WEF, and Ward has won each one.
He repeated his week 7 win on Thursday, March 8, with Hija van Strokapelleken.
And then on the next day, Ward rode Bellefleur PS Z to win the $35,000 Bainbridge 1.45m Classic CSI 5*, marking the reigning FEI World Cup champion’s second CSI5* victory in as many days.
The 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ course designer, Alan Wade of Ireland, set the course for week nine's Challenge Cup.
“It was by far the strongest track we’ve had in the Challenge Cup series,” said Ward, but it did allow 13 horse and rider combinations through to the jump-off out of an opening field of 50 entries.
“IT WAS A BIG track, I was actually very surprised at how many clear rounds there were,” said Ward.
Going second to last in the jump-off, Ward and Hija van Strokapelleken, an 11-year-old mare, sped through the track using the mare’s giant stride.
Ward had planned to do seven strides down the last line, but he had to make a last-minute adjustment to the final fence, but he was still able to record the fastest time in the class with a clear round in 39.37 seconds.
This was the pair’s second Challenge Cup win this season, and Ward also won the class during week 5 with HH Azur.
Second place went to the early leaders in the jump-off, Ireland's Shane Sweetnam and Chaqui Z, who went first and stopped the timers in 40.48 seconds, and Danielle Goldstein and Lizziemary were third in 40.68 seconds.
“She’s more adjustable than I thought!” said Ward. “The mare jumped beautifully in the first round. Both Devin [Ryan’s horse] and mine have big strides, so I was interested watching him. We both got the seven strides from one to two. I thought there was a seven to the last jump. I got a great jump into the line, the one I wanted, and at about stride five and three-quarters strides, I went, ‘I’m going to crash.’ I put the handbrake on, and most horses should have cantered right through the fence. She made a hell of a move to jump it. She’s always trying for you.”
While Hija’s place in Ward’s string is not guaranteed due to her for sale status, Ward said he is “really honored to ride her; I love riding the horse.”
“She’s been winning as much as any horse in the world over the last couple of months," said Ward. "There’s always a very good chance she gets sold, which is the goal, but until then I’m really loving every bit of her, and she’s performing very beautifully.”
With an official recount done of WEF Challenge Cup winners in the history of the class, Ward now stands tied at 27 wins in the series history with Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze of Canada.
FRESH OFF that win, Ward returned to the International Arena to win on another gray mare, Bellefleur PS Z, a 9-year-old Zangersheide owned by Susan Heller and Ward’s daughter, Lilly Ward.
When Ward entered the ring in the 54-entry speed class, Kristen Vanderveen on Faustino de Tili had set a quick time to beat of 56.19 seconds.
“I didn’t think Kristen was actually beatable to be honest," said Ward. "She has a much bigger stride on that horse than I have on mine,”
But Ward was able to shave more than a second off of Vanderveen’s time, finishing in 54.80 seconds.
“My mare is very fast though, and with today’s course, the numbers allowed her to keep going where a lot of the horses had to slow down,” said Ward. “I was able to catch the second to last fence very well to do the leave out, which I normally probably wouldn’t do with her. I got such a nice jump that I thought I was okay to do it, and she made a great effort.”
Friday’s victory marked Bellefleur’s second win in the $35,000 1.45m Classic CSI5*, having previously won the class on Feb. 9, and during that same week, the mare also claimed victory in the $70,000 1.50m Classic CSI5*, before enjoying a few weeks off from the show ring.
“She’s been great down here,” said Ward of the mare that he will now point toward the $132,000 Hollow Creek Farm 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic Final CSI 4* during WEF 11.
“She’s a blood mare, so we don’t work her too hard because we want to watch that she doesn’t get sort of ‘race horse fit,’ so to speak," said Ward. "She keeps herself fit anyway. Owen Rogers who actually takes care of her does a lot of the flatwork with her. He does a beautiful job. We try to keep it really low-stress because the horse is super competitive and super ready.
“I’d say my ideal plan for her is coming to fruition,” concluded Ward. “I think she’s stepping up beautifully.”