Oct. 30, 2010 – Thousands of enthusiastic equestrian fans at Verizon Center, Washington, DC, exploded in applause as two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward and the phenomenal Sapphire blazed to victory in the show’s highlight event.
Tonight's $100,000 President's Cup Grand Prix CSI 3*, presented by Washington Convention and Sports Authority, was a perfect example of show jumping at its finest. The field of 24 included half a dozen Olympic riders as well as Ward of Brewster, NY. Michel Vaillancourt of Aiken, SC, designed a challenging course permitting seven clear rounds through to an exciting jump-off.
Ward and Sapphire, owned by Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock, finished with a time of 34.09 seconds, just beating second-place finished Aaron Vale, of Texas, with a score of 34.87.
Saturday night’s President's Cup Grand is the highlight event of the Washington International Horse Show. The winner’s name is engraved on one of the most prestigious trophies in the equestrian world – The President of the United States Perpetual Cup, presented to the show by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961. This is a repeat performance by Ward and Sapphire, who also were winners in 2008.
The event is a qualifier for the FEI World Cup Finals to be held in Leipzig, Germany, in April 2011.
First into the jump-off, was the trailblazer in the first round, Ireland's Darragh Kenny on Gael Force, owned by Missy Clark and North Run. They had two jumps down for eight faults in 37.77 seconds for a sixth place finish. Charlie Jayne (USA) and Athena followed with a four-fault performance in 37.64 seconds, ending up in fourth place.
Aaron Vale (USA) and Paparazzi 10, owned by Thinks Like a Horse and Norman Peterson, were next in and set the first clear round and the “Travelers Time to Beat” in 34.87 seconds with a fantastic jump-off ride. His time would hold up for second place.
“The whole jump-off was filled with fast riders,” Vale recalled. “Everybody was a speed demon in there. McLain, with the experience that he his horse, had an advantage. I was hoping to land from fence one and get back as quickly to do as possible. I thought that was my best chance to gain some time. I got six strides and McLain actually got five there. I got around about as good as I could have hoped. I was hoping my time would stand up, but Sapphire is such a good horse and she just has such a big stride. He was able to do four (strides) from the in-and-out to the other oxer and that just kind of sealed the deal there. He didn’t have to rush the two big verticals after that and he came home and just got us, but I think I did as much as I could.”
G&C Quick Star 11 and rider Pablo Barrios (VEN) would be the next to contest the shortened course. With a slower rollback from the first fence to the second, Barrios tried to make up time through the rest of the jump-off, but they were just off the winning pace with a clear round in 35.89 seconds. They would finish in third place.
Barrios described his jump-off course, “For me, I didn’t have the turn that I was expecting in the jump-off from one to two, so I had to slow down a little bit. I decided to just try to keep the rails up because I had a very bad jump-off last week in Harrisburg and I just went for a safe round. But she is still always fast even when you go slow.”
Ward and Sapphire entered the ring to the cheers of the crowd, and the fever pitch only grew when they crossed the timers with a clear round in a time of 34.09 seconds, just fast enough for the win.
“I thought Michel really built a great course tonight. I thought it was challenging but fair, and it was a very appropriate course for a World Cup class. A tight ring, tight distances, so you really had to have that rideability,” Ward explained. “I thought my horse jumped beautiful in the first round. It felt very smooth. In the jump-off, I decided to do the four up at the end of the ring to the oxer and it got a little farther away than I had anticipated. It felt a little rough just for a few strides there, but when you have a partner like Sapphire you don’t have to be 100%. She is 110%, so she makes up for a lot of my mistakes.”
Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) and HH Ashley, owned by Double H Farm, faulted at fence 11 for four penalty points in a time of 38.82 seconds and fifth place. Kent Farrington (USA) and Top Gun, owned by the Iron Horse Farm, had trouble heading into the in-and-out, pulling a rail and stopping at the “b” element. They retired on course and settled for seventh place.
Vale and his horse Paparazzi 10, a 13-year-old German Warmblood gelding by Prominenz, are competing in their first year together. “My horse is an older, experienced horse. This is my first season with him and he has won some classes, but he has been a horse that was a little hard for me to get a hold of. I am just starting to get to know him. He is real quick around the turns, but he doesn’t quite have the range and the stride to leave out in all of the lines. He was super tonight.”
Vale is a past winner of the President's Cup Grand Prix in 2001 and 2003. He added with a smirk, “I was just looking to get gas money out of here and came out second, so I am pretty thrilled.”
Barrios was pleased with his G&C Quick Star's performance, noting that this is their second show together indoors. He and the 12-year-old KWPN mare by Quick Star were clear last week in the first round of the grand prix in Harrisburg.
“She came straight to this class, this was the only class that she did this week because she did three classes last week and she was really good,” he said. “I think she is great indoors. This is my first time here ever and I have never done indoors here in the United States, so I am happy to be here and she is jumping great.”
Ward and Sapphire, a 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare by Darco, competed here at the WIHS for the first time since the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Ward explained of his plan, “On championship years, because I have gone so light leading up to the championships, I usually do a few shows afterwards. Not a lot, but a few. She is really healthy, (and) she feels as good as she has ever felt in her life. We really don’t have to be hard on each other to do the job.
There are two or three really important shows that I am aiming for in December, but this is also a great chance to get inside. I thought this was a good venue for her. She has handled it well in the past, and it is an important horse show for us.”
All three riders feel that the Washington International Horse Show is a very important stop on their show jumping circuit.
“This is a classic American horse show, it is traditional, it is an important grand prix, it is a world cup class and it is a wonderful opportunity for us to get our sport in front of some people and get a crowd in here to watch,” Vale described. “It is wonderful the prize money that the show puts up for us and we need to do the best we can to put a good show on for them.”
Ward added, “I think it is great to be here in the city. I hope we can stay for many years. I think it gives the show a real electric atmosphere. I think this is still a very prestigious show to win in our country, so I want to bring my best horse. I think this was one of the best fields there has been in a few years here, so that is exciting.”
McLain Ward and Sapphire joined by Erik Moses and Gregory O'Dell of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, ringmaster John Franzreb, WIHS President Mrs. Juliet W. Reid, and WIHS CEO Eric L. Straus.
For their win tonight, Ward and Sapphire were presented with the President of the United States Perpetual Cup. Rodrigo Pessoa, who won three classes this week, was named the Leading Jumper Rider and was presented with the Margaret Chovnick Memorial Trophy. He was also the Leading International Rider.