Bridgehampton, NY - McLain Ward of Brewster, NY, repeated history at the Hampton Classic Horse Show by winning the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup Qualifier for the second straight year and adding to the record he already holds with his fifth win overall.
Ward's win on Sapphire, his two-time Olympic team gold medal horse, owned by Ward and Blue Chip Bloodstock, became only the third horse/rider combination to win back-to-back FTI Grand Prix competitions. Ward previously accomplished this feat on Twist Du Valon (1998-99), as did Margie Engle on Hidden Creek's Laurel (2000-01).
"I owe her my career," said Ward of his 15-year-old mare whom he showed for the first time at the Hampton Classic nine years ago, Sapphire. "This has always been an important event to me. This is a great show and probably the most prestigious class in the United States, so it's always a nice event to win."
The FTI Grand Prix attracted 36 qualifiers for Round 1 of the Guilherme Jorge designed course and yielded four for the jump-off. The youngest of the bunch, Darragh Kenny, 22, of Ireland, had the unenviable position of going first on Obelix, owned by Trade Winds Farm, and he went clear in a time of 44.04 seconds. Margie Engle of Wellington, FL, and Indigo, owned by Gladewinds Farm Inc. and Shay Griese, were next in the line-up and had a rail down early in the round for four faults and eventual fourth place. The third to go in the jump-off was Jimmy Torano of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, riding Vince, owned by Bynum Farms. Torano and Vince were clear and took the lead in 42.93 seconds as the sold-out crowd erupted in applause.
Applause turned into deafening silence as Ward and Sapphire started their round. The legendary pair took amazingly tight turns going at a steady pace and cleared the fences one by one to cross the timers in 40.85 seconds. Silence turned into ear-splitting cheers as Ward and Sapphire galloped around the grand prix ring with their record-setting win.
"Sapphire is not naturally a fast type horse, she has learned to be fast," said Ward. "I was very acutely aware that I needed to put the 'pedal to the metal' and not get caught sleeping. As I said 100 times before, she is a spectacular partner and just keeps coming through."
Torano finished in second place and Kenny was third. Torano was two seconds away from victory, but he took the defeat well. "To me, being second to McLain and Sapphire is a win," said Torano. "In my opinion, he is the best rider in the world and Sapphire is as good as it gets."
Prior to the start of the horse show, FTI Consulting agreed to donate $5 to the ASPCA each time a competitor cleared the ASPCA fence in any class throughout the week. In addition, they agreed to donate $1,000 for anyone that cleared the ASPCA fence in the jump-off. Over six thousand dollars was garnered during the week and all four riders cleared the fence in the jump-off for a total donation to the ASPCA of $10,885.
The Hampton Classic Horse Show is one of the most prestigious horse shows in the nation and features competitors at every level from young children in leadline to Olympic veterans.
For those who could not make it to the show grounds, WVVH-TV, the official Long Island television station of the Hampton Classic, broadcast up to five hours of competition and highlights each day during the Classic. These broadcasts can also be seen online at www.wvvh.tv.
Hampton Classic Horse Show, Inc. is a 501.c.3 charitable corporation. It benefits Southampton Hospital and has contributed more than $1.5 million to the hospital since it began.
For more information on the Hampton Classic Horse Show, please visit the Hampton Classic website at www.hamptonclassic.com or call (631) 537-3177.
Photo: McLain Ward and Sapphire taken earlier this year. Photo by Randi Muster.