Thursday night at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair once again belonged to the “King of Devon” McLain Ward of Brewster, New York, who surpassed 25 contenders to claim the $250,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon CSI4* for a record 11th time in his career. Ward, who is ranked fourth in the world on the Longines Rankings, rode the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, HH Azur, owned by Double H Farm, around the famed Dixon Oval in front of a packed crowd, consisting of diehard show jumping fans to Pennsylvania locals, hoping to witness some of the greatest names in the sport of show jumping go head-to-head for the most coveted trophy in the Devon collection: the Celeste McNeal Harper Perpetual Trophy.
McLain Ward and HH Azur (Photo: The Book LLC)
Winning at Devon has always been very special for Ward, especially since the grand prix is named after his legendary Olympic mount Sapphire, who died in 2014 due to complications from colic and who he also won the prestigious class with two times in 2007 and 2009. Even after claiming the title time and time again, Thursday’s 11th grand prix victory marked an incredible milestone in Devon Horse Show history.
Course designer of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Guilherme Jorge built a technical first round course consisting of 13 obstacles, where nine were able to produce clear rounds to ensure a jump-off. Of those nine, six finished double-clear.
“I was a little surprised there were as many clears as there were because I thought it walked quite difficult,” Ward commented. “The triple ended up jumping a bit better than I expected. I think it’s great to have a decent size jump-off for this crowd. It’s exciting.”
Twenty-five-year-old Catherine Tyree (USA) and Mary Tyree’s Bokai led the way in the tie-breaking round with the first double-clear performance of the evening in 41.05 seconds. However, their top finish was soon overtaken by Ireland’s Paul O’Shea and Tequestrian Farms, LLC’s Imerald Van’t Voorhof who followed with another faultless round in 39.41 seconds to move into the first place position.
Throughout the next four rounds, Ali Wolff (USA) and Blacklick Bend Farm’s Casall, who captured their first FEI win together at Devon in 2018 in the $50,000 Jet Run Devon Welcome Stake CSI4*, came the closest to catching O’Shea in 40.14 seconds.
McLain Ward and HH Azur. Photo by Phelps Sports
However, Ward and HH Azur, who is affectionately known as “Annie” in the barn, entered through the iconic blue “Where Champions Meet” archway next, going all out and clearing the final oxer in a blazing 38.12 seconds for the lead as the crowd erupted with applause and cheers.
Ward’s time held up through the remaining two challengers, ultimately garnering him his third consecutive win in the class, claiming the title in 2018 with Clinta and in 2017 with Rothchild, while O’Shea settled for second place, Wolff finished in third and Tyree rounded out the top four.
When asked what gave him an edge in the class, Ward proudly responded: “My horse obviously! She’s one of the best horses in the world. She came back from a pretty major injury last year and was a little rusty in Florida but finished the season well there. She was able to freshen up a little bit and she felt great here.”
After sustaining an injury in July 2018 while competing at CHIO Aachen in Germany, Annie was given five months off to recover before Ward began bringing his 2017 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final championship mount back into competition at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, at the end of January. They ended the season back in top form, winning the circuit’s grand finale, the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*. With another major victory under their belts this season, Ward and HH Azur have undoubtedly reclaimed their reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Looking ahead, the pair look to redeem themselves in Aachen, where they will return to the famed competition this summer.
Photo by Phelps Sports
$250,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon CSI4*:
Place / Horse / Rider / Country / Owner / R1 Faults / R2 Faults / Time
1. HH Azur / McLain Ward / Double H Farm / 0 / 0 / 38.12
2. Imerald Van’t Voorhof / Paul O’Shea / Tequestrian Farms LLC / 0 / 0 / 39.41
3. Casall / Ali Wolff / Blacklick Bend Farm / 0 / 0 / 40.14
4. Bokai / Catherine Tyree / Mary Tyree / 0 / 0 / 41.05
5. Fellini S / Erynn Ballard / Ilan Ferder / 0 / 0 / 41.29
6. Robin De Ponthual / Schuyler Riley / Katherine Gallagher / 0 / 0 / 42.06
7. Luibanta BH / Amanda Derbyshire / Gochman Sport Horse LLC / 0 / 4 / 39.84
8. Hadja Van Orshof / Kelli Cruciotti / Kelli Cruciotti / 0 / 4 / 42.69
9. Country Boy / Andrew Kocher / Eye Candy Jumpers / 0 / 4 / 43.32
10. Fasther / Lillie Keenan / Chansonette Farm LLC / 4 / 75.69
11. H&M Carat Desire / Annabel Revers / 4 / 77.85
12. Viva Colombia / Brianne Goutal-Marteau / Rose Hill Farm / 4 / 77.87