November 10, 2016 -- They are U.S. show jumping’s power pair, usually winding up in the vicinity of one another as the most important competitions are pinned. And so it was yet again last night in the $100,000 (USD) Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto, when McLain Ward was the winner on HH Azur and Kent Farrington came in second with Creedance.
It was a different story at the National Horse Show last weekend, after Kent won by producing an unforgettable jump-off ride, electric with speed and drama, while McLain was fifth in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Lexington. Kent came fifth individually in the Rio Olympics and McLain was ninth there, where both were on the U.S. silver medal team. McLain is number three in the world, Kent is number four. The month before, it was the other way around, but they have been sharing top U.S. billing on the Longines ranking list for some time.
Asked if he would have changed anything in his jump-off round yesterday at the Royal, where he had the fastest trip but with a rail down at the last jump, Kent cracked about McLain, “He would have been second and I would have been first. That would have been great.”
But he noted in an interview today that “I’m always happy when he does well and he’s always happy when I do well. I think we both take it from a very professional angle.”
Kent explained that since McLain is older (Kent is 35, McLain 41) and because he didn’t have McLain’s “professional horse background, he was always someone I had to catch up with. That’s always been the challenge for me since I was a kid, starting way behind from where he started.
“As you get older, the age gap narrows and we’ve become good friends and we rely on each other for insight or if we have a question about training or a course.”
Even last night, McLain asked Kent about the striding on one section of the route laid out by Bernardo Costa Cabral of Portugal. And it was nice in Lexington to see that after McLain had a rail in the massive 14-horse jump-off and Kent had gone early, the two were standing side-by-side as the rest of the horses went while Kent awaited his placing. The picture was one of friendly support, rivalry set aside for the moment.
“That’s part of what makes great competition. You want your friends and everybody to go at their best,” said Kent.
And that’s McLain in particular.
“We’ve ridden on a bunch of teams together. We have a similar competitive mindset. I’m always happy when he does well and he’s always happy when I do well,” Kent commented.
“I think we both take it from a very professional angle. We try to leave no stone unturned.”
McLain and I last night talked about the relationship from his viewpoint. To see the video (and also hear what McLain has to say about the Royal) click on the right-hand arrow.
As McLain pointed out, the Royal was a must-do for him in order to get those valuable points. Kent, as per his penchant for speed, is the runaway leader in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League’s Eastern Sub-League, with 72 points. Audrey Coulter, who didn’t make the jump-off in Canada, has 45, just one point ahead of McLain. Laura Kraut, who also didn’t make the jump-off, has 37.
The Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Toronto class was made even more competitive than usual by the presence of Nick Skelton, the British rider who won the individual gold at the Rio Olympics at age 58, as his career was winding down. There won’t be that many more chances to see him and the fabulous stallion Big Star in action, since Nick plans on retiring when his horse does, so his appearance in the Ricoh Coliseum was quite an opportunity for fans.
Going eighth in the order, Nick was the first of five from the field of 23 to qualify for the jump-off, which put him in the unenviable position of being first in the tiebreaker. A rail at the liverpool that had caused problems in the first round (both Nick’s partner, Laura Kraut, and Jessica Springsteen had a knockdown there) was disappointing, and his time of 37.26 appeared to be easily beatable by the superstars who would come after him.
“I wouldn’t say the indoors is really his forte,” noted Nick about Big Star, saying the stallion prefers more space.
“First you’ve got to try to put a decent enough time up when you’ve got these guys going before you, but it didn’t work out today.”
Canada’s Mac Cone had a tough round, with 12 faults on Gasper van den Doorn, followed by everyone’s expectation that Kent would blow the doors off. He had what would be the best time of 35.19 seconds, but that knockdown at the last brought moans from the crowd. He didn’t have to give up hope—McLain could always have a knockdown--but he didn’t, and Azur finished fault-free in 36.02 seconds. The last chance belonged to Shane Sweetnam, but the Irish rider dropped a rail at a vertical and logged a time of 37.49 seconds to finish fourth on Chaqui Z.
Bernardo, the course designer, modestly minimized his contribution when speaking about his role—but he got the “right” result with the three Olympic medalists on top.
“Building courses for these guys is fantastic,” he said.
“I don’t have to do much, because their quality speaks for itself. I put a few fences, I do some tests, but they are the real stars. I just do a little balancing difficulties in tests…and then they do the rest.”
I’m at the Royal through Saturday night, so be sure to check out www.facebook.com/practicalhorseman every night and look for another postcard on Sunday.