McLain Ward capped off the first week of competition at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival with top honors on Sunday, Jan. 10 in the $75,000 Bainbridge Companies Grand Prix. Ward and Catoki topped four speedy entries with the only double clear effort of the day to claim the title.
The feature class marked the conclusion of the WEF Premiere week at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington.
Ward and the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Marilla van Beuren, Bob Russell and Ward challenged a field of 30 entries, putting forth a clear effort over the technical track set by Eric Hasbrouck to ensure a jump-off. He and Catoki moved swiftly across the shortened course to set the tone for the remaining entries with a fault-free time of 36.846 seconds.
Last to go in the jump-off was Canada’s Erynn Ballard, with two big wins under her belt over the previous week. A rail at the second to last jump on course proved to be the difference this time around, landing her in the runner up position in 36.994 seconds with Ilan Ferder’s 10-year-old mare Kamilla D.
It was 16-year-old Grace Debney who produced the first clear effort of the day with Temple Equestrian’s 10-year-old mare Zarina de Vidau, in just her third career Grand Prix. The youngster was the first to return in the jump-off as well, finishing with just one knockdown in 37.126 seconds to round out the top three.
The remaining competitor in the jump-off was Nick Dello Joio on Gelvera, a 10-year-old KWPN mare owned by Hi Hopes Farm. They had four faults in the jump-off, and with a time of 37.652 seconds, finished fourth.
For Ward, the victory with Catoki was a positive step after a difficult outing in the Adequan WEF Challenge Cup Premiere Round.
“You just try to slow him down sometimes,” Ward said. “He goes every time to win. Sometimes when you always go to win the class, it can blow up a little bit. He’s been a great campaign winner for us and so competitive. I felt like if I rode well, he would perform well today.”
In most cases, Ward sticks to his own game plan, but after a fiery start to the week by Ballard, her success crossed his mind.
“I’ve actually come behind her in both jump-offs, and I think tried a little too hard to beat her,” he said. “I thought about that a little bit last night, actually. Catoki, he’s either going to win or be close, particularly at this 1.50m level. He’s a real tiger.”
Ballard, also a regular competitor on WEF’s international stage, felt the pressure coming into the week’s finale.
“I felt so nervous today, more nervous than any other day this week because I felt like everyone was watching and I had to be good,” she said. “My room for error was very small, but she made the first round so easy for me. In the jump-off, when you’re following McLain, you have to try.”
While Ballard has experienced a great deal of success throughout her career, her early WEF results sit near the top of her long list of accomplishments.
“I had a good week two years ago, at Longines Masters in New York. I won the speed challenge and was third in the Grand Prix, but you never forget weeks like this,” she said. “You know that you’re not going to have them every time. You certainly can’t take them for granted.”
For Debney, it was also a week filled with success, including a win in Sunday morning’s $10,000 Show Jumping Hall of Fame High Junior Jumper Classic, presented by Griffis Residential, followed by her third-place finish in the Grand Prix. Her goal for WEF 2021 is to continue to be consistent, and she’s certainly off to a rapid start. “It definitely has built up my confidence,” Debney said.
For Ward, it’s exciting to be surrounded by up-and-coming United States show jumping talent. When asked about the bright future of many of the young American riders competing at WEF, he beamed with pride.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “It’s phenomenal for the future of the sport. It’s very rewarding for myself. I’m actually a little bit involved with Grace’s situation. Lillie [Keenan], Adrienne [Sternlicht], Lucy Deslauriers; I have a pretty incredible group of young ladies around our operation that I hope are learning, benefiting and flourishing with our support. I always tell them, as much as they get out if it, I also find energy from working with them and seeing their ambition and young view of the sport. It keeps you hungry.”
The Bainbridge Companies has been a sponsor at the Winter Equestrian Festival for 21 years. Chairman and CEO Richard Schechter congratulated all of the riders on a fantastic performance.
Earlier in the day, Selcuk Koksalan of Wellington captured the win in the $10,000 Medium Amateur-Owner Jumper Classic aboard Carla.
WEF continued Jan. 13-17 with the Wellington Regional Medical Center CSI3* show. The first week of international jumper competition features Saturday night under the lights with the $137,000 Wellington Regional Medical Center Grand Prix CSI3*. Don’t miss a minute of the action by tuning into the free livestream of feature classes. Learn more at www.pbiec.com.