SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.--McLain Ward of Brewster, N.Y., riding HH Gigi's Girl, won the $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix for a record seventh time on Sept. 2, beating Shane Sweetnam by almost two seconds.
Course Designer Michel Vaillancourt built a challenging course at the maximum height of 1.60m, including a line of jumps taking the competitors nearly the entire length of the packed VIP tent.
The tough course was a true test of ability, resulting in just five advancing to the jump-off round.
The start order was determined by the final placings in the $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Qualifier earlier in the week, which meant the better you did Friday, the further down in the order you went on Sunday.
Ward was in the bottom third, but Friday’s winner, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, on Main Road, was the last rider to go in Sunday’s Grand Prix.
SWEETNAM was also clean in the first round, which meant he jumped last in the jump-off.
Ward, never one to ride for second place, pulled out all the stops with HH Gigi’s Girl, the 10-year-old grey mare owned by Double H Farm.
They cleared the course and flew across the finish line in a time of 39.32 seconds, knowing speedy Sweetnam was yet to come.
The only time Ward let up on the gas was heading to the very last fence, and only for a split second, knowing that if he pushed any more, he would risk having the last jump down.
“The line from the Jaguar vertical to the last jump ended up being a steady seven strides,” said Ward in the press conference following the awards. “But it was one of those lines where although the seven seemed steady, almost holding, doing six strides would become kamikaze. I also didn’t know what quality the jump would be off the full rollback to the Jaguar. Gigi slipped just a tiny bit on the tight rollback turn she made to the Jaguar fence, which actually worked out perfectly because it meant I could support and push up to it. However, she is young and still a bit inexperienced. I knew I had done a lot already and heading down that last line, I had to take a bit off the gas pedal.”
Ward and HH Gigi’s Girl finished with a clean score, in a time of 39.32.
Eventual third-place finisher Lucy Davis was unable to catch Ward’s time. Caracho left the jumps up, but they crossed the timers in 42.47 seconds.
Last to jump, Sweetnam had to contend with Main Road bucking sporadically in the jump-off, both upon landing and while galloping between fences, so they crossed through the timers with no jumping faults in a time of 41.24 seconds to finish in second place.
The top three riders each received beautiful new timepieces courtesy of Longines.
Although Sweetnam would have to be content with second in the class, his lead in the $30,000 Longines Rider Challenge was so strong that he easily held onto first place and took the title for the second time.
Having been awarded one Longines watch for finishing second in the Grand Prix, Sweetnam received a second watch for securing the Longines Rider Challenge.
Adding these to the watches he won in Friday’s $75,000 Grand Prix Qualifier and Saturday’s $70,000 Longines Cup, Sweetnam, with four watches, certainly won’t have an excuse to ever be late.
IN THE $75,000 Grand Prix Qualifier on Friday, Sweetnam had two horses in the jump-off, and he took full advantage of having a second opportunity to ride the course, putting into place changes that would ultimately help him win the class.
Nine were clean in the first round, and Sweetnam, riding main Road, was first to go in the jump-off and set the early lead, jumping clean in a time of 39.42 seconds.
He then had to turn his attention to his second horse, Indra van de Oude Heihoef and plan his return.
Sweetnam, who was second with Indra in the $10,000 Palm Beach Masters 1.45m class Wednesday, made no bones that having the chance to go in and do it again, is a huge advantage.
“I was lucky to have both go clear,” said Sweetnam. “The plan is for Main Road to jump Sunday, so I was never going to go all out with him today. I was lucky enough to go quick enough to still get a good piece of it with him and finish fourth.
“Having been around once, it gave me the real advantage of knowing the route, how it felt, and where I could leave a stride out. I had to work for it, but she does cover the ground.”
Sweetnam left out a stride out between fences one and two and finished in 37.72 seconds for the win.
Mexico’s Fernando Martinez Sommer finished in 38.19 seconds with Cor Bakker to place second, and Devin Ryan, who will be part of Team USA at next month’s World Equestrian Games, finished third with Cooper in 38.25 seconds.
Then Sweetnam won Saturday’s $70,000 Longines Cup with Indra van de Oude Heihoe. making it also two years in a row for Sweetnam, as he won this class in 2017 with Main Road.
Just five of the 33 starterst were clean rounds and progress to the jump-off.
Sweetnam won in 36.61, with Ireland's Richie Maloney second on Rocksy Music in 36.90 and Canada’s Mario Deslauriers third on Amsterdam in 38.53.
“She’s super talented,” Sweetnam said of Indra. “She showed real heart and desire to get the job done two days in a row. Last year was her first grand prix, here in the Hamptons, and she’s really a bright light for the future.”
An annual tradition signifying the end of the famed Hamptons social season, for eight days the Classic hosted every level of horse and rider from the smallest leadline competitor up to World Cup, World and Olympic Champions such as Sunday’s winner, McLain Ward.