McLain Ward and Rothchild blazed a path to victory to take top honours in the $100,000 Hickstead FEI World Cup Grand Prix at Canada’s Royal Horse Show in Toronto on Wednesday night.
“The Hickstead class” as it is now known, was renamed to honour the great horse Hickstead, following his passing in 2011. Hickstead carried Canadian Eric Lamaze to an individual gold medal, and team silver in jumping at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Harrie Smolders of the Netherlands finished second aboard his firecracker of a mare, Regina Z.
Of twenty-four horses to tackle the initial round of 16 jumping efforts on course, just seven were able to advance to the jump-off designed by 1976 Olympic silver medalist, Michel Vaillancourt.
It is the fifth time that Ward has won the class.
Smolders had the disadvantage of going first in the jump-off, having laid down the first clean round in the first round of competition.
Ward followed Smolders in the second round, and was able to observe the incredible turns and angles the pair executed, in hopes of duplicating and improving upon their time. Ward pushed Rothchild to an incredible pace, and admits luck was on their side at the Toronto skyline wall, where the bricks moved, but did not topple.
“I felt my horse was ready to win, but I knew not only with Harrie’s round in front of me but with what was coming behind me that I had to do something a bit extraordinary tonight. Sometimes it works in your favour and sometimes it all goes wrong. Tonight it was in my favour,” Ward said.
It is uncharacteristic to see refusals in a jump-off, but the horses of both Katie Dinan and Kent Farrington (both of Wellington, Florida) were simply unable to gallop, turn and jump in the manner and speed which was required to be atop the leaderboard.
The Canadians did not fare nearly as well, experiencing what simply felt like a raft of bad luck and circumstance.
Beth Underhill drew first in the order and had two jumps down. Third in the ring, Ainsley Vince of Burlington, Ontario, jumped a lovely clean first round but incurred one time fault which prevented them from moving forward. Veterans Ian Millar and Mac Cone had a rail each, and international division newcomer Jordan MacPherson had two down with her very experienced mount Piccobello du Val De Geer.
Three-time Olympian, Ward says the atmosphere at the Royal is second to none, and it’s a show he hopes to get a “lifetime invitation” to compete at.
“I’ve been coming here since I had just turned 17, and I think I’ve been coming every year since then but one. I love the city and the atmosphere here, the crowd is phenomenal. It has a very special old-world feeling,” he said.
“We are losing the traditional shows. Here and one other show, Devon, has really held fast with tradition. You still see black-tie every night and the house is packed. There are events that say ‘society won’t go along with this type of formality and special environment’ – Well this just shows they are wrong. I think it’s really very special.”
Clearly the Royal Horse Show agrees with Ward, as he also won the afternoon’s $15,000 McKee Family International Jumper Challenge with Wings. His US teammate Laura Kraut finished in second, and previous night’s winner Conor Swail of Ireland finished third.
The Royal Invitational Dressage Cup Grand Prix was contested in the afternoon, where London Olympian David Marcus won with an overall score of 70.00%.
$100,000 Hickstead FEI World Cup Grand Prix
Rider / Hometown / Horse / Faults : Time
1. McLain Ward / Brewster, NY / Rothchild / 0 : 37.00
2. Harrie Smolders / Netherlands / Regina Z / 0 : 37.59
3. Laura Kraut / Middleburg, VA / Jubilee D’Ouilly / 4 : 36.14
4. Conor Swail / Malahide, Dublin / Game Ready / 4 : 39.00
5. Kent Farrington / Wellington, FL / Uceko / 4 : 46.93
$15,000 McKee Family International Jumper Challenge
Rider / Hometown / Horse / Time
1. McLain Ward / Brewster, NY / Wings / 48.12
2. Laura Kraut / Middleburg, VA / Bonito R / 49.16
3. Conor Swail / Malahide, Dublin / Arista / 51.37
4. Mac Cone / King City, ON / Vannety B / 52.71
5. Francois Mathy / Belgium / Elvis Van De Vrunte / 54.29
Royal Invitational Dressage Cup – Grand Prix
Rider / Hometown / Horse / Overall Score
1. David Marcus / Campbellville, ON / Chevri’s Capital / 70.000%
2. Diane Creech / Hagersville, ON / Devon L / 67.801%
3. Evi Strasser / St. Adele, QC / Action Tyme / 63.901%
4. Jacqueline Brooks / Mount Albert, ON / D’Niro / 63.014%