McLain Ward’s victory with HH Azur in tonight’s first leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017 Final was so smooth that defending double-champion, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat, showered his American opponent with praise. The double-Olympic team gold medallist, who posted the quickest time in 59.27 seconds, explained the course didn’t leave riders with a lot of options.
“It was big enough for the first night! In reality there was just a whisker between the top three, I was very fortunate.”
It was indeed a close-run affair as runner-up, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann (35), may well have overtaken him but for a small error between the second and third fences which saw him stop the clock on 59.58. “It should have been seven strides there but I did it in eight, and that was the whisker I think!” he said.
“I’m one of McLain’s biggest fans. On the circuit in Florida I like watching him any time”, the 2012 Olympic champion Guerdat said, after finishing third with a thrilling ride on the fiery mare, Bianca. The niceties will be a thing of the past by tomorrow evening however, because with tonight’s result turned into points, Ward has only a two-point advantage over von Eckermann going into the second competition, while Guerdat is only a single point further adrift.
There’s €1,300,000 in prizemoney and the glory of taking the coveted Longines title to be sorted out by Sunday afternoon.
Photo: Liz Gregg/FEI