USA's Double Olympic Gold Medalist Ward & Sapphire Win $200,000 World Cup Grand Prix Presented by CN
RELEASE: March 9, 2009
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Roxane Theidel
McLain Ward and his two-time Olympic Gold medal partner Sapphire claimed their second grand prix victory in a row Saturday night by winning the $200,000 FEI World Cup Grand Prix CSI**** presented by CN at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center during the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF).
In an exciting six-horse jump-off before a near-packed stadium under lights at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, Ward, of Brewster, NY, and the 14-year-old mare owned by Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock posted a time of 43.51 seconds. The pair won Gold at Athens in 2004 and in the Beijing Games in 2008.
They finished just 0.18 seconds ahead of "Cap'n Canada," Ian Millar, and his 2008 Olympic mount, In Style, owned by Susan Grange. Millar, a nine-time Olympian won Team Silver at the 2008 Games. Ireland's Darragh Kerins and Night Train placed third with a time of 45.80 seconds.
The night was a mix of emotions for Hunter Harrison, the chief executive of CN, the sponsor, who has emotional ties to the top three placings. Harrison's Double H Farm owned Sapphire when Ward rode for him up until two years ago. Millar is sponsored by CN. Double H Farm owns Night Train.
Forty-five riders qualified for the grand prix on a course designed by 2009 Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios of Venezuela.
Early in the opening round in PBIEC's showcase International Arena, the time allowed was moved up by four seconds.
Millar described the course as "brilliantly crafted" by Palacios, whom he described as "for sure one of the top three course designers in the world." Millar said he was happy the time allowed for the first round was changed because "I don't like time to be a factor...I like the size and technicality to do their job. It was the hardest course we've jumped so far (at WEF), which it should be important to get the right riders to get to Vegas."
Ward also thought the course was, "exactly on the money," noting the "good balance tonight between it being suited for big horses and small horses, to achieve that balance is a challenge."
Ward said of his jump-off round in which he went ahead of Millar, "I knew I had to put pressure on him, and he made me a little nervous to the last, but it worked out okay."
Millar said the difference between the two jump-off rides was that "the plank didn't come up as good as I would have liked, and as I came around the corner there was a flower box sticking out that distracted him, so the triple bar didn't come up as good as it should have...a fraction at the plank and a fraction at the triple bar."
"You know to beat a guy like McLain and Sapphire everything has to come up right and the minute something doesn't come up just right you know you've got to try and make it up."
"To win both, I was a little surprised myself," Ward said of his back-to-back grand prix wins at WEF.
Ward and Sapphire won the $150,000 CN CSIO Grand Prix last Sunday.
Ward said he that despite the victories Sapphire is still not at her peak and is preparing her for the FEI World Cup in Las Vegas, April 15-19.