Lexington, KY - The top 30 horse-and-rider combinations going for the Gold medal in the World Jumping Championship presented by Rolex at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games battled it out in the Rolex Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park on Friday night in a two-round competition. The U.S. Team was represented by the world-class grand prix duo and two-time Olympic Gold medalists McLain Ward and Sapphire who have had an exceptional year in 2010. The top four finishers at the end of the two rounds will advance to the final competition on Saturday night.
Falling rails was a common theme of the night as there were only five clear rounds in the first session and three in the second.
Ward, 34, of Brewster, NY, and Sapphire (15-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare owned by Ward, Tom Grossman and Blue Chip Bloodstock) were seventh to answer the questions proposed by Conrad Homfeld's course. The pair entered the ring on a score of 12.27 having posted four faults in the first round and eight faults in the second round of Individual competition.
Round A presented the riders with 12 fences (including a double combination at fence 5 and triple fence 11) in a time allowed of 79 seconds. It was a compact and adding course with short distances between the questions.
Ward and Sapphire looked the picture of confidence, and they showed it. Posting a time of 72.13 seconds and zero faults, the pair moved into ninth place headed into Round B.
After Round A, Ward said that Sapphire felt great and had been jumping well all week.
"I really can't say that at any point that I thought she wasn't jumping well," said Ward. "Today, she jumped great again."
Ward said that going into Round B felt bittersweet, and he felt like some fans had been let down by missing a Team medal.
"But, it wasn't for lack of effort," he said. "I wanted to try to ride well today and finish on a good note and try to find a respectable place. Hopefully, we'll get back to the second round and climb a little bit."
Heading into Round B, six horses did not return and the final 24 horse-and-rider combinations took to the course in ranked order after the first round.
Ward and Sapphire went 17th in Round B and put down a clean and clear round to stand as one of the only horse-and-riders to put in double-clear rounds of the night.
In the end, Ward and Sapphire climbed the rankings from 26th place to finish at seventh to end his self-described "rollercoaster ride" at the 2010 WEG.
"We've had a wonderful welcome here all week. It's great to have the home crowd," said Ward. "We put the best group we could together."
"I'm 34, so I'll have a few more chances and couple of swings at it," he said. "But, it wasn't meant to be. I'm lucky to have such a good horse."
The final four horse and rider combinations heading into the Final Four contest are (in ranked order): Canada's Eric Lamaze and Hickstead (first - 3.39); Belgium's Philippe Le Jeune and Vigo d'Arsouilles (second - 4.11); Brazil's Rodrigo Pessoa and HH Rebozo (third - 6.80); and Abdullah Al Sharbatly and Seldana di Campalto (fourth - 7.07).
Photo: McLain Ward and Sapphire. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.