November 12, 2014--Often, equestrian sport is decided in mere fractions. Tenths, or even hundredths of seconds are not unusal deciding factors at the uppermost levels. Tonight, McLain Ward won the $34,000 Jolera International Jumper class by more than four seconds over his closest rival, Jessica Springsteen.
Following a fantastic "all-Canadian" opening weekend at the Royal Horse Show, today marked the start of the prestigious international division. Twenty horse and rider combinations tackled this evening's track, set by Guilherme Jorge of Brazil, whose subtle angles and exact placement of jumps tonight somehow managed to create a course which was both twisty and turny yet wide open and galloping all at the same time.
"I tried to give a few options to the riders in the turns but also in the strides and gallops," explained Jorge following the class. "Today's first class this afternoon also had some horses which will go tomorrow in the World Cup, so we are already building up from 1.45m this afternoon to 1.50m tonight. But the ones on top tonight really tried to go fast as well. McLain is always a very fast rider."
Adding to the "burn pile" out back will clearly be tonight's skinny fence eight, the undoing of many riders tonight, falling for nearly one third of the riders. Many went fast, but not many went fast and left the jumps up - the critical combination.
Winner Ward discussed HH Carlos Z, owned by Double H Farm, following presentations tonight. Although the pair has only been together since February, the synergy is already evident, having won a good grand prix in Washington as well as jumping well in the Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows this fall.
"It did seem like he was a bit of 'overkill' for this class tonight," laughed Ward, praising his compact, catlike partner; "but it really helped out at the Canadian Flag jump following the inside turn - he really made a hell of a move to get over it!"
"I had the inside turn to the fifth jump in my original course walk plan and I knew it was doable. As I was coming up to the ring I was mentally flipping back and forth as to whether it was necessary or not though. But when Conor did it then it changed the situation."
Not only did he jump clean, he did it in an incredible time of 57.36 seconds. Springsteen was his closest rival, clocking in at 61.82 seconds. Third went to this afternoon's winner and the winner of this class last year, Ireland's Conor Swail, finishing on 62.34 seconds.
Springsteen, of Colt's Neck, NJ, comes into The Royal hot off three big wins indoors in Washington, including the puissance competition with Stone Hill Farm's Lisona, her mount this evening. It should come as no surprise that they handled tonight's class just fine - their winning height of the puissance wall was six feet, ten inches.
"She can jump anything you point her at!" proclaimed Springsteen broadly. "Laura (Kraut) my coach said not to go crazy, not to be frantic or hectic. She did all the tight turns easily tonight, and felt amazing. I'm really happy."
Earlier in the day, Conor Swail took first in the $20,000 International Power and Speed with Susan Grange's Game Ready.
"Coming into The Royal my three horses feel really good," said Swail this afternoon. "Game Ready jumped a lovely round today, the course really suited him. There were some tight turns and rollbacks and he is very good at those. He turns very quickly and jumps across the jump fast. So I knew going in it was very winnable."
Last year's Leading International Rider, Swail actually injured himself just prior to the Big Ben class in 2013, but still considers The Royal a "lucky show" for himself.
"Even though I was injured last year, the horses really like it here and I really like it here. It's one of my favourite shows of the year. And it's always nice to start well here, it's nice that between the three horses it feels like every class I have a chance to win. That's a great feeling."