March 31, 2017—For nearly a year, we covered the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League qualifiers. From California to New York, and Canada to Mexico, we watched riders give their all for a shot at the big prize, as they sought to make the select list for the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final.
And finally, here we are, as many of the discipline’s top athletes, human and equine, have gathered from around the globe. In addition to the usual suspects, big names from the likes of the U.S., Ireland, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Spain, the showdown at the CenturyLink Center includes riders who are not as prominent, from more exotic countries—Estonia, Poland, Uruguay, Egypt and Hungary, among them. That’s the beauty of the Cup concept, bringing the show jumping world together.
I remember when McLain Ward won the qualifier at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair last November. He was so relieved to move up in the standings because he got a late start after focusing on the Olympics, where he was part of the silver medal U.S. team.
McLain wants this title very much, as was evident in the way he approached last night’s competition—pulling out all the stops to top the field of 37 on the reliable HH Azur, a horse he treasures. After crossing the finish line, he stopped and looked up at the jumbotron to see his time, then patted Azur and gave a little wave after realizing he was in the lead.
Although McLain has two Olympic gold medals and that silver, they are team medals. He’d like a global individual championship. He’s come close to being able to hoist the Cup in victory several times in the past, but now he’s off to quite a start that he hopes will enable him to reach his goal. Though as he noted, there’s a lot of show jumping left to come. Tonight there is a timed first jump-off class, and after a rest on Saturday, Sunday’s tall order is two rounds of demanding courses.
The 21 to go in a field of 37, McLain had carefully planned his trip over a course laid out by master designer Alan Wade of Ireland.
“There weren’t a lot of options,” McLain pointed out, noting he used Azur’s big stride to his advantage. He produced a 59.27-second trip without dropping a rail, which would have added a 4-second penalty.
Henrik von Eckermann of Sweden nearly caught McLain, but finished second on Mary Lou (do you love that name? So 1956.) Timed in 59.58 seconds, his plan was to do seven strides between the second and third fences, the CWD vertical and an oxer/vertical double, but he went wide and wound up doing eight. That probably was the difference between going into tonight’s competition with 38 points, as McLain is doing, and 36 points, which is Henrik’s total. The point conversion is complicated, so just go with the numbers and don’t worry about how they’re calculated.
Swiss rider Steve Guerdat, who is going for his third straight World Cup title, has 35 points for a 60.06-second round on Bianca.
Interestingly, the top three horses all were 11-year-old mares. But Azur is by far the most experienced of the trio. And she’s taking winning in stride—she only reared once in the prize-giving ceremony.
“She’s an incredible animal,” said McLain, who has a way with mares. His late super-horse, Sapphire, was always a player in the finals. Listen to what McLain had to say about his prospects in Omaha by clicking on the right-pointing arrow to watch his video.
McLain was the good news for the U.S., but it appears he will be the lone ranger for the American effort. Those who aren’t in the top 10 after the first class generally aren’t in contention for top honors, and the next-closest U.S. rider is Charlie Jacobs on Cassinja S in 14 place with 24 points, followed by Laura Kraut and Zeremonie in 15 with 23.
Todd Minikus, who did a great job winning the last qualifier in Ocala earlier this month to get his Omaha ticket, was out of contention early with Babalou. She uncharacteristically dropped a rail at the first fence, then toppled three others. Todd is in 32d place with six points, probably the biggest surprise of the class. Other U.S. riders are also out in the cold. Jamie Barge of California is one point ahead of Todd on Luebbo, while Jenni McAllister is the lowest-ranked of all the finishers on Legis Touch the Sun. Audrey Coulter slipped off Capital Colnardo to be eliminated, while Karl Cook retired with Tembla after problems at 6 and 7B.
To see more about the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final, go to www.omahaworldcup2017.com.
Look for additional photos at www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman, where you can keep following the Cup action. I’ll be back with another postcard after Friday night’s competition.