One chapter closed for McLain Ward and another opened as he retired his long-time partner Sapphire and then returned with Antares F to top the leaderboard of the 2012 Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon. The field read as a who's who of top showjumping.
Always an exciting and anticipated event, this year's Grand Prix was especially critical for many riders because the class served as an official United States Equestrian Federation Observation Event. As the competitors were well aware, an impressive performance in this class could lead to a recommendation that the rider and horse be named to the Olympic showjumping team for London.
Clearly, the pressure was on and many rose to the occasion. The crowd supported their team contenders by waving American flags and donning baseball caps sold by the Souvenir Booth to commemorate the occasion.
International course designer Michele Vaillancourt set a demanding track, with maximum heights and spreads. The bogey obstacle on course was fence number nine, a red plank vertical that served as the "out" jump of a challenging line and eliminated several competitors. A field of sixteen was quickly whittled as five riders jumped clear in the first round.
The first rider on course, Charlie Jayne on Chill R Z showed how it was done as he made quick work of the course and posted the first clear. After several four fault rounds, McLain Ward entered the ring on Antares F and his clear round necessitated a jump off. The next to go clear was Laura Kraut on Cedric, blazing the small gray horse around the demanding course effortlessly. Not to be outdone, the very next rider, experienced competitor Margie Engle, went clear on Indigo. On her last of three mounts, Beezie Madden went clear on Coral Reef Via Volo but elected not to jump off because she was riding Via Volo only for the purpose of Olympic selection and not for placement in the Grand Prix.
Four returned for the jump off with all eyes were on the clock as Jayne entered the Dixon Oval and again showed the audience how it was done with a second clear round, stopping the clock at 39.93 seconds. Next up was Ward, who rode the course with his smooth and effortless style, not only displaying masterful equitation but stopping the clock just a bit faster than Jayne at 34.32. That time would stand as Kraut had an unfortunate rail on Cedric and Engle jumped clear but stopped the clock at 35.28. In the end, the blue ribbon went to Ward who selflessly tossed it to a child in the audience. Second place was awarded to Engle, third to Jayne, fourth to Kraut, fifth to Jessica Springsteen and sixth to Molly Ashe-Cawley.
Less than an hour earlier, he had stood in the winner's circle to send off Sapphire and at the end of the night he returned triumphant on Antares F. So ends one chapter of Devon history for this seven-time Grand Prix winner, and perhaps opens his chapter to the London Olympics.