McLain Ward, who had to be feeling a bit effervescent after sweeping with characteristic aplomb through the Hampton Classic’s major prize money classes last week, a streak capped Sunday afternoon by a record sixth Hampton Classic Grand Prix win (and third in a row), cradled in his lap the magnum of Louis Roederer Champagne he’d been given, popped the sizable cork, and invited those who’d attended the show-ending press conference to share in a round.
Multiple wins and high placings are nothing new to the taut, sandy-haired 34-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist from Brewster, N.Y. Considered America’s top show jumping rider and among the top three in the world, it could fairly be said he outdid even himself in the foreshortened show’s five-day run, winning not only the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix, but also the $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix Qualifier, the $30,000 Nicolock Open Jumper Challenge (in which he also took third and fourth), and the $15,000 Prudential Douglas Elliman (1.45-meter) Open.
This is not to mention a second-place finish in the $7,500 Pilatus (1.45-meter) Open Jumper competition and a fourth in the $30,000 Split Rock Farm 6-year-old Young Jumper Class, Round 3.
With the $75,000 he won on Grant Road Partners’ German-bred grey, Antares F, in the Grand Prix, besting a cordial rival, Kent Farrington, and Uceko, “by less than a stride,” Ward rode away, all told, with about $115,000 in prize money.
Asked what made him so good — Ward seems to stand in relation to his competitors as Tiger Woods once did in golf — Marty Bauman, the Classic’s press officer, said, “McLain’s not just a great rider — he’s a great horseman. He treats his horses as the athletes they are, 52 weeks a year. He never overuses them — he trains them with care so that they always peak at the right times.”
Ward, himself, who won the Grand Prix jump-off by two-10ths of a second over Farrington, said he considered the Classic “the best show in the country,” and that, consequently, “I always come with my best horses. I feel the event is worthy of that.”
Bauman, despite being a great fan of Ward’s, confessed at the press conference that he and others thought Farrington, winner of the recent King George Grand Prix in England, who went first among seven horse-and-rider combinations in the jump-off, might have it sewed up with his and Uceko’s 32.96 second circuit of the pared-down seven obstacle course.
Lisa Deslauriers and Vicomte D, the second to go, were eliminated when her horse balked and threw her off at the fourth obstacle, the 1.69-meter red brick wall. Norman Dello Joio and Notre Star dropped a rail with two fences left. That brought on Antares F and Ward, who traced his winning time of 32.78 seconds to having shaved a stride — or, as he was to say later, maybe even less than a stride — between the second jump-off obstacle, the ASPCA wall, and the third, a double vertical near the center of the V.I.P. tent.
At that point, with three competitors — Audrey Coulter, Lucy Davis, and Ljubov Kochetova — remaining, the announcer said they should keep in mind Ward and Antares F had landed on the far side of the red brick wall at 19 seconds.
Coulter, an 18-year-old San Franciscan riding Victory DA, trailed Ward by three seconds at the wall, and pulled the last rail. Davis, also 18, from Los Angeles, and Nemo 119 skirted the wall entirely, and Kochetova, the Classic’s first Russian competitor, and her 7-year-old Oldenburg stallion, the youngest horse in the Grand Prix, went clean in 40.11 seconds, which was good for third place.
Thirty-three horse-and-rider combinations contested Guilherme Jorge’s tough 13-fence (16-effort) first round, and most came to grief at one point or another, with the 1.6-meter Jaguar vertical and the Nespresso oxer near the in-gate, the water-reflecting Liverpool combination midway through the course, and the airy “bridge” off a 270-degree turn over worn ground in front of the V.I.P. tent taking most of the hits. The triple combination that preceded the last jump, the massive square FTI oxer, figured to be a problem, but was not so.
In former days the Grand Prix qualifier winner would have been the last to go out on the course, though nowadays the order of go is determined by a draw. Ward, who went 12th, going clear in 80.98 seconds, well within the allotted 86, said he didn’t mind at all being in the middle.
“Besides McLain Ward there’s one other name that comes to mind this week — Irene,” Bauman said before the Grand Prix’s top three answered questions. “Seven days ago at this very moment we weren’t sure we would be here today, but the fact we are is a reflection of the Hampton Classic’s leadership. In Shanette Barth Cohen we’ve got the most amazing executive director of any horse show anywhere.”
For her part, Barth Cohen said she’d never doubted that there would be a show, though the question as to when it would begin [Aug. 31 as it turned out] remained open as the hurricane turned tropical storm approached.
Dennis Shaughnessy, who heads FTI Consulting, said he knew the Classic’s staff was able, “but I didn’t know they were magicians,” he added, concerning the efficient tear-down and rapid resurrection of the show’s 100 tents and 1,600 stables. At 5:30 p.m. Sunday [Aug. 28], you would have thought there would be no way that they’d ever be able to hold a world class horse show here.”