The day before the $200,000 Empire State Grand Prix, two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward said of his 16-year-old partner, HH Azur, “Whenever I get on her now at this point in her career, I give her a pat and say, ‘You know, you don’t owe me a jump, but if you could jump a few more, I’d appreciate it.'”
HH Azur (Thunder Van De Zuuthoeve x Sion Van De Zuuthoeve) not only jumped a few more fences today but she jumped clear and went fast, demonstrating a double-clear round to win the $200 Empire State Grand Prix FEI CSI4*. The grand prix, presented by Old Salem Farm and The Kincade Group, was the finale of the two-week Old Salem Farm Spring Horse Shows in North Salem, New York.
From a field of 31 starters, Ward and Azur were one of four horse-and-rider pairs to jump clear in the first round over Alan Wade’s 16 jumping-effort course. Then, despite temperatures soaring into the 90s, they were the fastest in the jump-off, stopping the clock in 37.29 seconds. Katherine “Katie” Dinan and Grant Road Partner LLC’s Brego R’N B (Namelus R x Nikita), finished second with a double-clear round and jump-off time of 38.11 seconds. Devin Ryan and LL Show Jumper LLC’s Eddie Blue (VDL Zirocco Blue x Silvana) also put in two clear rounds to finish third with a jump-off time of 38.25 seconds.
HH Azur: ‘I Owe Her So Much’
After the win, Ward complimented the Belgian Warmblood mare, with whom he won the 2017 FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in Omaha, Nebraska, and a team silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “I owe her so much in my career. … It’s great to see this wonderful mare healthy and still doing the sport and making me look good.” Ward said the mare, owned by Double H Farm and François Mathy, has had health issues on and off for a few seasons, but she came into good form at the end of last year. He doesn’t show her too often—they’ve competed in only three grands prix so far this year, including the Empire State Grand Prix, and won two of them. When Azur is at home in the barn, Ward said, “She’s a queen. She’s a never-end of energy. She’s, in the most wonderful way, arrogant. [But] she’s a warrior. She’d follow you off a cliff.”
The win was especially sweet for Ward, who was instrumental in getting much-needed renovations to the iconic grand prix field. Until this year, the ring had been an undulating grass arena, which had proven challenging to maintain in the Northeast’s variable climate and unpredictable spring rains. Ward approached Old Salem Farm owners, the Hakim family, with the idea of replacing the turf to state-of-the-art, all-weather footing, which was finished only a few weeks before the competition began May 10. Ward and Scott Hakim served as co-chairs for the spring shows. (Check back in a few days for a behind-the-scenes look at the renovations to Old Salem Farm.)
The grand prix is just one of Ward’s many wins this week. Riding the 12-year-old Dutch warmblood Faro (Calvaro Z x Buratine), he won the $37,000 FEI 1.45-meter jump-off presented by Fidelity Investments yesterday. On Friday, he won the $65,000 Welcome Stake of North Salem presented by The Kincade Group, also with his and Susie Hellers’ Faro, and the $25,000 National 1.40-1.45-m Jumper Classic with Marilla Van Beuren’s 13-year-old Westphalian gelding Catoki (Catoki x Coca Cola).
Brego R’N B: ‘Super Fresh’
As for her second-place win in today’s grand prix, Dinan said the heat didn’t affect her 16-year-old KWPN gelding. Brego, her 2022 FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final partner, has “tremendous blood and energy. He was super fresh when I got on him,” she explained. Happy with her first round, she said that Brego “just kind of clocked around, and I thought about making sure I was in the time allowed and for a few jumps, to pay a little bit of special attention to, but I just wanted to give him as smooth as stride possible. He was on a really big stride, and so just kind of making sure I managed that and gave him the best chance to jump a clear round.” For the jump-off, Dinan said she took a bit of a shot after seeing Ward’s fast and clear round but thought she might have been “a tiny bit slow” in a roll-back turn from the third fence to an oxer–vertical combination.
Dinan, who won the Evergate Stables $40,000 1.50m New York Welcome Stake presented by Jumpr App with Brego the first week of showing, said she thought it was a testament to Wade’s course-designing skills that the faults in the first round were spread over a variety a fences throughout the course. “It wasn’t just one bogey jump or one gimmicky spot but really just a lot of different tests of the horse and rider. And the time allowed was tight, but not stupid, tight, and so it made you think about it, but in kind of in a good way—you [had to] keep a good pace throughout the course. And there were some places you could strategically make up some time.”
After Ryan and Eddie Blue’s third-place finish, Ireland’s Paul O’Shea and 15-year-old Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu (Silverstone VDL x Verona), owned by MacHu Picchu Partner’s LLC, finished in fourth. The pair also went clear in the first round but had trouble in the jump-off when the gelding refused at the first jump.
Of the 31 starters, 17 horses had time faults in the first round. Evan Coluccio and the 9-year-old Valdes Z had one time fault to finish fifth. Six horses had four faults. For complete results, click here.