They did again! Thw amazing partnership of McLain Ward and the awesome HH Azur made it two in a row – rocketing to victory in the second leg of the the FEI world cup final in Omaha, Nebraska, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Thirty-three tackled the track with six surviving to access the jump-off, although four must be considered unlucky to return one time fault, including Ireland’s Denis Lynch and All Star. Again McLain came to the fore, securing his second win on the amazing Thunder van de Zuuthoeve 11-year-old HH Azur by an incredible 2.52 sec.
Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet on Forlap claimed second with Switzerland’s Romain Duguet on Twenty-two des Biches.
“She’s an independent woman, I don’t think she needs me very much! I have to try to keep a handle on her, but she tries to give you everything she has, and she has a tremendous amount to give,” said McLain.
This is McLain’s 17th world cup final and a win has eluded the double Olympic gold medallist so far. This year the title is almost in his grasp, but it is far from over. Although he won by a big margin, only three points – less than a fence in hand – separates McLain from his nearest rival Gregory Wathelet, and Romain Duguet is on four points.
Gregory is no pushover and has re-established his partnership with Forlap, a 12-year-old he produced to top level before being sold.
“He lost his confidence because he was passed around to several different riders, so it was a bit of a risk buying him back”, said the 2015 European silver medallist, who is clearly delighted Forlap is relishing his job once again.
Romain is also in with a fighting chance, although his ride Twenty-two wasn’t his original choice.
“She’s never spectacular but she jumps clear rounds. It wasn’t my plan to ride her in the final but my other horse was injured,” said Romain, who has produced this mare from a five-year-old. “She’s only 10 now but she proved she can be really good this week. We go day by day in this final.”
McLain is now looking forward to Sunday’s final leg.
“The biggest challenge for me is to keep my head right” admitted McLain. “It’s something I need to master, and I hope I can do that this weekend”
Second on day one, four faults dropped defending champion Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat – who is chasing his third final after winning in 2015 and 3016 – and Bianca down to 13th on day two. He now lies in sixth spot and goes into the final on eight penalty points, two fences back from McLain.
Longines FEI world cup standings after leg two:
1 McLain WARD (USA) 0
2 Gregory WATHELET (BEL) 3
3 Romain DUGUET (SUI) 4
4 Martin FUCHS (SUI) 5
5 Guido KLATTE jun. (GER) 7
6 Steve GUERDAT (SUI) 8
7 Henrik VON ECKERMANN (SWE) 8
8 Sergio ALVAREZ MOYA (ESP) 9
9 Marcus EHNING (GER) 10
10 Maikel VAN DER VLEUTEN (NED) 12
Photos courtesy FEI