McLain Ward’s victory with HH Azur in lastt’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.

1, HH Azur, McLain Ward, (USA), 59.27 seconds
2, Mary Lou, Henrik von Eckermann (SWE), 59.58 seconds
3, Bianca, Steve Guerdat (SUI), 60.06 seconds

Facts and Figures:
The FEI World Cup™ Jumping series is in its 39th season.

A total of 37 athletes from 18 countries will participate in the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final 2017. The participating countries are: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Uruguay and USA.

A total of 875 human and 1,086 equine athletes compete in the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Leagues around the world during the 2016/2017 qualifying season, all with an eye on a place at the Longines Final in Omaha.

Defending champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) is going for his third consecutive Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping title in Omaha (USA).

Course designer in Omaha is Ireland’s Alan Wade.

The first FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final was held in Gothenburg (SWE) in 1979, when Austria’s Hugo Simon took the title with Gladstone. Simon, who only announced his retirement from the sport recently at the age of 74, was the first rider to win the series title three times.

American riders have taken the title on nine occasions. The last American winner was Beezie Madden with Simon.

McLain Ward USA (1st)

“We’re very lucky to have Santi (Santiago Varela ESP) and Alan (Wade IRL) the two very best course designers here. They put the test in front of you and they’re not afraid to put up big fences but they make subtle problems that always have a solution. Nothing tricky, Alan’s track always rides smoothly if you solve the test.”

Henrik von Eckermann SWE (2nd)

“My horse is quite green. I started riding her in September when I started running my own yard and she’d only been jumping 1.45m before.”

Steve Guerdat SUI (3rd)

“I’m happy with my position and the way my horse jumped. She felt very good but I think we have the right winner. I’m happy for McLain today. We knew he would be the man to beat this week and I hope we have a good fight to the finish!”

press release by L.Parkes