1-2-3, World Cup! The United States’ McLain Ward and his horse HH Azur won the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final in front of thousands of equestrian sports fans at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska Sunday — taking the title after three straight victories at the competition. Ireland’s Denis Lynch finished 17th.
This year in Omaha was Ward’s 17th attempt at winning the World Cup Final, and in the run-up to Sunday’s main event, the fourth-ranked show jumper in the world had made clear how important it was to him.
“In our sport there are three major events — the Olympic Games, World Championships and the World Cup Final — that we all very much want to win,” the double Olympic gold medallist explained. “It’s a big deal.”
And with a horse like HH Azur, the Belgian-born 11-year-old mare who is today one of the most elite sport horses in the world, this year’s edition was as good an opportunity as Ward has ever had to finish on top of the podium.
In the end, the pair replicated their clear rounds of previous days — not knocking down any rails — and finishing faultless in a time of 57.96 seconds. Their pay-out came to 172,500 euros. In second place (pocketing €131,250) was a Swiss rider, but not Steve Guerdat, who had won the two previous World Cups in Las Vegas and Gothenburg, Sweden. This year, the honours went to Romain Duguet and his 10-year-old chestnut mare Twentytwo des Biches, finishing in 56.46 but with four faults. Third was Sweden’s Henrik Von Eckermann and Mary Lou in 56.32 seconds and with 8 accumulated faults. Their ride was still good for €78,750.
After spraying Duguet and Von Eckermann with champagne at the trophy presentation, Ward reflected on his long journey to the top spot.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years or more,” he said, “and I’ve come so close so many times and one way or another I’ve messed it up. I’m so grateful for my horses and the people around me like my groom. Lee, who has been with me for 29 years, they all helped me pull this off!”
On Saturday, Isabell Werth, the most decorated equestrian athlete in Olympic history, captured her third World Cup Dressage title in Omaha, and first in 10 years after earlier victories in in Gothenburg, Sweden (1992) and Las Vegas (2007). The German World No.1 and her horse Weihegold OLD came in ahead of the United States’ Laura Graves and Verdades, and Great Britain’s Carl Hester and Nip Tuck.
Next year, the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final and FEI World Cup Dressage Final 2018 will be held in Paris, France.