November 13, 2014–McLain Ward (Brewster, NY) considers The Royal Horse Show a “great home away from home” and it’s no wonder, as he has become more than comfortable in the winner’s circle here year after year.
The Olympic double gold-medalist won the $100,000 Hickstead FEI World CupTM Grand Prix presented by Hudson’s Bay for the second year in a row tonight with Rothchild, having won it twice before with Goldika 559, and twice before that with Rio.
Striking fear in the heart of course designer Guilherme Jorge, the first three riders of the twenty-one to start (including Ward), easily jumped around clear. Unfortunately current Greenhawk Canadian Show Jumping Champion, Ian Millar, ended that streak, with an uncharacteristic twelve faults with Star Power.
Loxahatchee, Florida’s Todd Minikus, who, with tonight’s mount Quality Girl, won the $1,000,000.00 class in Saugerties this fall, also jumped clear. Daniel Bluman (COL), Nicola Philippaerts (BEL), Conor Swail (IRE), Jonathon Millar (Perth, ON), Beezie Madden (Cazenovia, NY), Francois Mathy (BEL) and Roberto Teran (COL) did as well, making it a truly international nine to jump-off over the taller, wider and wide open jump-off track.
Second in for the second round, Ward pulled out all the stops over Jorge’s course, and Rothchild responded, galloping and jumping flat-out, ears pinned, hell-bent from end-to-end of the Ricoh Coliseum.
“We had some strong competition in the jump-off,” remarked Ward. “He’s such a fast horse, but I actually felt a little slow from the first to second jumps. So I really opened him up to the double combination and he jumped it great – just as easily could have levelled it. Then I was able to get the eight strides home. Sometimes it just works out.”
Ward, who always rides Rothchild with a photo of his late father in his pocket, also remarked on the ‘special attitude’ the horse possesses, both at home and in the warm-up ring.
“He’s not actually a hard horse to ride in the the ring,” said Ward, “But he’s difficult. You need to know him. In the warm up he sometimes pretends he’s afraid of the other horses (although he’s not,) he can kick out at them, and sometimes if one is jumping next to him he will race the other horse. He’s quirky. He has character at home but it’s good character. I like his character, but it’s going to be his way. And you need to find a way to agree with that. But he’s jumped as many clean rounds as any horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Veteran Todd Minikus felt he “took the win away” from his mount Quality Girl tonight, when he had concerns about the roll-back turn to the Toronto Wall heading toward the in-gate in the jump-off.
“Turns out she turned quite well, and I just didn’t expect her to turn that well!” laughed Minikus. “I got hung up a bit and let’s just say I didn’t shut the door, but I didn’t catch McLain. He did the eight strides to the last jump and I just didn’t see it. I did the nine and it just wasn’t good enough tonight.”
Third went to Belgium’s Francois Mathy with the lovely D’Atlantique Royale, who were able to post a quick, consistent clean and slot in just ahead of Canada’s Jonathon Millar and Calvin Klein.
The matinee horse show today featured the $15,000 McKee Family International Jumper Challenge, which Ward also won in a handy time of 46.89 seconds with Zander. Never far off the top, Ireland took second and fourth with Darragh Kenny and Conor Swail respectively. Colombia’s Roberto Teran rounded out the top three.
The afternoon matinee also featured the first round of the Royal Invitational Dressage Cup presented by Butternut Ridge.
Four horse and rider pairs contested the Grand Prix in advance of tomorrow night’s crowd-pleasing Freestyle to Music, and it was British Columbia’s Karen Pavicic who came out on top this afternoon.
“I think we had a clear winner today,” remarked Lorraine MacDonald (CAN), the judge at C today. “There is still room for improvement, but overall a lovely horse with a very good walk. This is a horse with a lot of potential.”
Pavicic, who represented Canada this summer at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy with her mount Don Daiquiri, has been looking forward to competing at The Royal for a very long time. If Don Daiquiri was a little “up” today, one hopes Pavicic is prepared for what a full house tomorrow evening will do.
“He was a little ‘spicy’ today, more than I thought he would be,” commented Pavicic this afternoon. “Overall he felt good – he did have one spook which caught me off guard a little – but otherwise I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’ve always wanted to ride here at The Royal and it’s really a dream come true.”
For Pavicic, whose year has also included firsts of riding in New York’s Central Park show and Dressage at Devon for the first time, riding in tomorrow night’s Freestyle to Music is just “the icing on the cake” of a pretty great year. The pair received a score of 70.067% for their efforts today.