McLain Ward and HH Azur capture the Tourmaline Oil Cup
No fewer than 49 horse and rider combinations, including four of the world’s current top-10-ranked riders, contested the highlight class of day two of the CSIO5* Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, the 1.60m Tourmaline Oil Cup. Venezuelan course designer Leopoldo Palacios appeared to have set a tough task, with many of the world’s leading riders unable to negotiate the 12-obstacle course fault-free and progress to the jump-off. However, much to the delight of the International Ring’s crowd, a small flurry of partnerships bucked the trend towards the end of the class, thereby setting up a scintillating six-horse jump-off, which was later reduced to four after Daniel Bluman from Israel and Ladriano Z, and third placed in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, Nicola Philippaerts and Katanga v/h Dingeshof decided not to compete.
The four duos contesting the final show-down included American McLain Ward and HH Azur, Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping champion and Rolex Testimonee, Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson, fellow Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser from Germany and his 11-year-old stallion, Bingo Ste Hermelle, and Harrie Smolders and his superstar stallion Darry Lou, who knows this arena better than most, having triumphed here in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex in 2019 with previous partner Beezie Madden.
An eight-fence jump-off awaited the four pairs with Scott Brash first to go, who notched up a double clear in 45.92 seconds. He was followed by McLain Ward, who stormed around the course without a fault, beating Brash’s time by over five seconds. That left Deusser and Smolders, who both went clear, but neither were able to better the American’s unassailable lead, with the German slotting into second place and the Dutchman finishing third.
Thrilled with his win and his 16-year-old mare, McLain Ward, commented: “Horses understand the importance and the energy differently than we do. I think these great horses sense the atmosphere and want to do well and want to please and want to rise to the occasion. She walked up to the gate today and she raises her head, her eyes are right on the arena, ears pricked, this horse is pulling me in to go and do the job, so she understands it in some ways for sure.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex and how he will prepare himself, Ward, said: “I have enough experience now. I just try to focus on my job and believing in our plan and believing in the horse, and you need a bit of good fortune also.”
You’ve had some amazing successes here at Spruce Meadows – what makes it such a special place to compete at?
I came here for the first time last year and then again this year for the Summer Series, which has been fantastic. I’ve been lucky enough to win two 5* Grands Prix with two different horses. The horses just grow here and the facilities are the best in the world, so I’m just very grateful to be able to ride at this show.
Which horses will you be competing with this week at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?
For the 5* I’ve got two horses including Ebolensky, who won the 5* here last week, and then I’ve got Fabrice DN, who will be doing the Grand Prix [CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex], so that’s my plan. They’re both super horses, both very different. One’s owned by Luis Alejandro Plascencia from Mexico, and the other one is owned by me and the Evison family in England. Both horses are great and I’m looking forward to a good week.
You and Fabrice DN won the RBC Grand Prix of Canada CSI 5* in June and you gave a lot of credit to your team. Tell us how important your team is to your successes…
I couldn’t be doing any of it without them – Kate, Brad, my girlfriend Kara and all the guys at home. Alongside those people, I can’t forget my owners and my parents, who brought me up to do this. Often it’s not talked about enough but there’s a massive team behind me who get these horses feeling as good as they can for the day.
Have you got any young horses that you believe have the potential to be future 5* Grand Prix winners?
I have a horse call King Lepatino, who’s jumped here and is owned by Cumberland Acres, which is an American stable. He’s a seven year old and made his international debut here in the International Ring and he did a lovely clear round so I have high hopes for him.
Who’s inspired you most throughout your career?
My parents first of all who are always pushing me forward with lots of confidence. Rider wise, I think John and Michael Whitaker – I’ve grown up watching those guys. My good friend Scott Brash, who’s obviously done fantastically well here. We did a lot together when we were younger so he’s always there for advice. There are many others including Duncan Ingles who I worked for when I was younger and who’s helped me a lot.
Away from show jumping, what do you love to do, what makes you tick?
Anything competitive. Most of the time we don’t get many chances to do anything else, so just seeing my family is the most important thing when I’m not at a show.
What’s the proudest moment of you career so far?
I think winning my first 5* Grand Prix here at Spruce Meadows, which was a life-long ambition, it’s what every rider strives to achieve so that really stands out.
How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam has been for the sport of show jumping?
It’s just incredible. It’s the most exciting things our sport has. There are so many Grands Prix but these ones are absolutely the best. To have the best venues that host these Grands Prix is just fantastic for the sport so thank you to Rolex for that.
Walk the course with:
What’s a typical day for you like at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?
I normally get up at 6am, arriving at the showground at 7am. I will finish quite late tonight, at around midnight, as I have to wait for the ATCO Six Bar to finish, after which I’ll build tomorrow morning’s course. I’ll then arrive here early tomorrow morning to put some finishing touches to the course, which is all part of my job.
Away from course designing, what are your passions?
My main passion is horses. I love horses. The other thing I like is deep-sea fishing for marlin and tuna, which my father also loved. But just fishing for them, not swimming with them! My family used to have a special fishing boat, which my father would use for competitions in Venezuela. Towards the end of my father’s life, after he finished farming, he would go fishing, and I would go with him, so that’s how my love of fishing started. My home country, Venezuela, is an absolute paradise for fishing marlin, and also the Caribbean. That life runs very much in parallel to my course designing career.
What advice would you give to someone young who wants to become a professional course designer?
The first piece of advice I would give them is that you have to love horses. I would also tell them that you need to have passion and not be driven by money, as this is not a job for money. You can absolutely survive and I have a good life; but this job is all about loving the horses and having passion for the sport. Technically, I would recommend that a young course designer learns about geometry and having the skill to draw, so as to be aware of scale and to ensure you have great plans. Understanding horses and learning about them is also crucial, specifically being able to read their expressions to see when they’re happy or sad. So, a good balance of technical skill and feeling is what someone wanting to be a course designer should have. Finally, you need to build the very best courses that you can, and make the riders compete against one another and not against you and your course.
What’s your favourite ever memory from your course designing career?
That’s a very difficult question, but one day that I was really happy and when my heart was pumping was when Scott Brash won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping here. That day the stadium was full and there was total silence in the International Ring – all you could hear was Hello Sanctos. In my opinion, what Rolex is doing for this sport is fantastic. Another moment for me that was very emotional was at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Never in the history of the Olympics did the Individual jump-off have just three horses in it to determine the three medal. That was always my dream and something I asked for. And I had it. In that moment I went crazy and I was jumping all over the place when it happened. And it didn’t happen with double clears, it happened with faults in both rounds.
As head course designer, where and when did you design your first course?
I designed my first course as lead designer in Venezuela in 1976. I then designed my first international course in the North and South American League in 1977.
Who has inspired you throughout your career?
My main inspirations were Arno Gego and Pamela Carruthers, they were two of my mentors. I worked with both of them for many, many years. Over a three year period I was Arno Gego’s assistant and I learned an awful lot from him, and he became like my father after this.
Finally, tell us about the course you’ve designed for Sunday’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex, and who you believe will win the class…
I never like to build courses that don’t balance, so for Sunday I will make sure that if I include a long distance, I will also include a short distance, and then a normal distance. In this way, the course will appeal to all of the horses and riders.
This year I think we have a super field of horses and the quality is very high – the best of the best. Normally, when I look at the startlist for the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex and I think about how the horses have been jumping throughout the week, I can pick between 15-20 horses who could be in with a chance of winning. But this year I think up to 30 combinations will be in with a good chance of winning. I think that riders have started to understand the significance of the Rolex Grand Slam and they’re saving their horses for this incredible opportunity.