The highlight event of the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival, the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*, was held at the season-ending Saturday Night Lights class on Saturday, March 30. Topping the ultimate test at WEF were McLain Ward and HH Azur in a thrilling eight-horse jump-off.
In a field of 40 entries, some of the best horses and riders in the world vied for the chance to take home the top prize money of the circuit. They were riding over a course set by 2016 Rio Olympic Games designer Guilherme Jorge.
There were eight that found the key to a clear round to advance to the jump-off. The pathfinder was David Blake of Ireland riding Pine Hollow Farm’s Keoki. They set the pace at 44.36 seconds with a steady clear round, which would stand for fifth place.
The winning time was lowered with the next horse, H5 Quintol, owned by H5 Stables and ridden by Eduardo Menezes. They sped through and stayed clear in 39.69 seconds for fourth place.
Next in was 19-year-old Lucy Deslauriers riding Lisa Deslauriers’ Hester. With an impressive early rollback to the Adequan vertical and a quick pace through the remainder of the jump-off, they shaved four-tenths of a second off the leading time to finish in 39.25 seconds for third place.
To the delight of the crowd, the rounds kept getting faster. Kent Farrington and Gazelle, owned by Farrington and Robin Parsky, started off with a blazing gallop and never let up, streaming through the timers in 37.82 seconds.
Farrington was proud to represent Rolex in the final Grand Prix of the WEF season.
“I think Rolex has raised the whole level of the sport, especially here at this venue,” he said. “As an athlete, it’s one of the greatest sorts of achievements; I’m very proud to be a Rolex ambassador. They do a lot for the sport worldwide.”
Daniel Bluman and Ladriano Z, owned by Over the Top Stables LLC, would enter the jump-off next, but it was not to be when they had a rail at the Adequan vertical. They finished on four faults in 39.09 seconds for sixth place.
With an unfortunate fall at the second to last fence in the jump-off, Laura Kraut and St. Bride’s Farm’s Confu were eliminated and finished the class in eighth place. Next in was Rodrigo Lambre riding Mario Onate’s Velini. With a rail down over the Rolex oxer, they would land on four faults in 40.15 seconds for seventh place.
It all came down to the final rider in the ring to see who would receive the Rolex timepiece and top honors for the WEF circuit. With three wins in this final Grand Prix over the 12-year history of the class, Ward was certainly stiff competition.
Tapping into HH Azur’s massive stride and incredible talent, Ward galloped around and made short work of the jump-off. After adding a stride in the final rollback, Ward pushed to the final Rolex oxer. They sped through the timers in 37.42 seconds to take the win over Farrington by four-tenths of a second.
It was a great return to the top for the HH Azur, who is owned by Double H Farm, François Mathy and Ward. A slight injury kept her from competing at the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018, and since then, Ward and his team have worked to return her to her winning ways.
“I’m really excited for Azur and all of her owners,” said Ward of the 13-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare. “It’s been a long road back since she was injured last summer.”
Mark Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sport Productions, thanked the athletes for the incredible competition that took place and noted the steady growth seen over the last 11 years of the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“It was probably the biggest crowd that we’ve ever had here,” he said. “It was a great show that these three athletes here — a new generation in Lucy and two of the most gifted athletes in the sport — gave, to go out there and compete at this level is just absolutely fantastic.”