Omaha, Nebraska - Two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward (USA) rode with perfection, clearing every fence through four rounds of jumping to win the LONGINES FEI World Cup™ Finals at the CenturyLink Center.
"It's amazing. To win the World Cup™ anywhere is a dream come true and to win here at home with this amazing crowd is something I have been dreaming about since I was a little kid," beamed Ward. "I have been the overnight leader a couple of times and messed it up some way or another. I said to "Annie" (as he affectionately calls his mount, HH Azur), 'I need a little help tonight' and she gave it to me."
The pressure was on for Ward. In order to earn the title, he had to be flawless. Romain Duguet (SUI) and Twentytwo des Biches had already finished with the top score of four faults. One rail down for Ward would tie Duguet and necessitate a jump-off. Two rails down would mean defeat.
The huge crowd grew silent as Ward and HH Azur negotiated the challenging Alan Wade-designed course. Once Ward cleared the final fence, silence turned into deafening cheers and thunderous applause. Ward threw his arm in the air attempting to make a fist of celebration and lost his reins in the excitement. It was a day he will never forget.
"The crowds were so amazing. Two strides going into the final fence I said to myself, 'keep it together, keep it together;' I think they carried us through," said Ward.
As he rode around in the victory gallop, Ward waved to the appreciative crowd fighting back tears. He had been to 16 previous World Cup™ Finals without a win and really wanted the title, not just for himself, but for all who have helped him along the way.
"I'm so grateful not only for the horses that I had over the years but for the people behind me," said Ward. "Lee (McKeever), my groom, has been with me for 29 years, since I did large ponies. So to try to pull one off for them was very important for me."
Duguet finished in second place and was proud of his young mare's overall performance.
"Twentytwo did everything. She jumped unbelievably all week and I am so proud of her," said Duguet. "It was a perfect week for me. I came here with no pressure. For me, if I finished in the top 10 I was going to be really happy. I tried my best. Second place was a bonus."
Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) was very pleased with his third place finish of eight faults on Mary Lou. He was sixth coming into the final day and moved up to third with his two clear rounds in the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final III.
"I'm very happy," said von Eckermann. "For me winning third place was great because I started out in sixth today and moved up. My horse really deserved it, she was incredible."
Equestrian sports' most prestigious annual indoor championship for jumping and dressage horses, the FEI World Cup™ Finals Omaha 2017 attracted the world's top riders and horses representing 27 countries, including many Olympic, World and European Champions. The Finals had an overall attendance of 52,119.
Started in 1979, the FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final is an annual international showdown among the world's best show jumping horses and riders. Ward's win allows the U.S. to tie Germany for the most wins with 10.
Overall Results: Longines FEI World Cup™
1. McLain Ward (USA) HH Azur - 0
2. Romain Duguet (SUI) Twentytwo des Biches - 4
3. Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) Mary Lou - 8
4. Martin Fuchs (SUI) Clooney - 9
5. Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) Arrayan - 9
6. Guido Klatte jun (GER) Qinghai - 11
7. Gregory Wathelet (BEL) Forlap - 11
8. Steve Guerdat (SUI) Bianca - 12
9. Maikel Van der Vleuten (NED) VDL Groep Verdi Tn N - 12
10. Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) Ensor de Litrange LXII - 16
11. Kevin Staut (FRA) Reveur de Hurtebise - 16
12. Marcus Ehning (GER) Pret A Tout - 18
For a complete list of results, please click here
For more information about the FEI World Cup™ Finals Omaha 2017, please visit www.OmahaWorldCup2017.com.