Two-time U.S. Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward won his third CSI5* in two weeks by taking top call in the $401,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI5* riding his 2016 Olympic mount HH Azur during Saturday Night Lights at the Winter Equestrian Festival on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Santiago Varela, who has been tapped to set the tracks at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, was the course designer for the Grand Prix, which welcomed six contenders from three different countries to a tie-breaking jump-off.
Continuing a banner month that included the birth of his second daughter, Madison, Ward is riding a wave of success and a little bit of luck. “It has been a pretty incredible few weeks. My team is doing an amazing job,” said Ward, who also won the Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI5* during Week 5 riding Noche de Ronda. “I’m lucky to have phenomenal horses and owners, to be able to have multiple horses that can win at this level. If we’re really honest with ourselves, sometimes you can do nothing right, and sometimes you can do nothing wrong. We’re in one of those streaks, and we’re going to enjoy it and try to keep doing our best.”
Ward and HH Azur, a 14-year-old Belgian Sport Horse mare owned by Ward and Double H Farm, utilized “Annie’s” massive stride and foot speed to stop the clock at 39.85 seconds. The time proved more than good enough to top Ireland’s Capt. Brian Cournane riding his own Penelope Cruz in 44.19 seconds. The podium was rounded out by Alex Granato, who had the time to beat Ward but pulled a single rail with Page Tredennick’s Carlchen W to settle on four faults in 38.87 seconds.
HH Azur is making a comeback from a minor injury that sidelined her during the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona last fall. “Tonight, she felt great,” Ward. “She’s getting a little older, has jumped a lot of big jumps in her life, and been an incredible partner.”
HH Azur appears to be back in the game. “Once I got through the double, I took a touch off coming home. For sure I left a little room, but a lot of times you can lose it before you get started, and I didn’t want to do that,” Ward said.
Cournane is now in his third year piloting Penelope Cruz, a 12-year-old Irish Sport Horse and stepped the mare up to the five-star level just two weeks ago at WEF. “She has been jumping great in 1.50m league on Sundays,” he said. “Tonight, she really felt on form and jumped great.”
Granato made his way onto the podium beside Ward. “I was really happy with him,” Granato said of his 12-year-old Mecklenberg gelding he plans to point toward the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Las Vegas, this spring. “I thought he performed well, and I am excited for how he feels.”
Ireland’s Darragh Kenny and Romeo 88 took fourth place with a four-fault jump-off round in 39.30 seconds for fellow owner Ann Thompson, while Brazil’s Eduardo Menezes capped the top five riding Magnolia Mystic Rose with four faults in 40.10 seconds for owner Rm Agronegocios Eireli. Returning last over the short course, Ireland’s Daniel Coyle finished sixth with two poles hitting the ground in a time of 43.36 seconds aboard Legacy, owned by Ariel Grange.