McLain Ward and Blossom Z, owned by Wyndmont, Susan Heller, and McLain Ward, flew to the top of the podium for a victory in the $50,000 CaptiveOne Advisors 1.50m National Grand Prix on Saturday, March 6, in the International Arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC).
Week 8 of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) sponsored by Premier Equestrian, concludes on Sunday, March 7, with the $37,000 Hermès Under 25 Semi-Final Grand Prix opening the day at 8 a.m. in the International Arena due to weather on Saturday night. The afternoon features the $214,000 Grand Prix CSIO4*, presented by JTWG, Inc., on Sunday, February 7, with a new start time of 1:30 p.m. All feature classes will be available live and on-demand on the livestream.
A total of 25 combinations challenged the 1.50m track set by Steve Stephens (USA) and Nick Granat (USA) on Saturday afternoon. The first round consisted of 16 jumping efforts with a total of nine qualifying to return for the shortened second round.
First to go of the nine returning combinations, Ben Maher (GBR) and Kalinka De Kalvarie, owned by Poden Farms, set the pace for the remainder of the competition with a clear effort in 36.200 seconds. Fifth in the returning order, McLain Ward rose to the occasion, topping the time set by Maher, with Blossom Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide mare by Balou Du Rouet x Cleopatra Z, with a clear effort in 33.022 seconds.
“She’s a quick horse naturally,” said Ward. “She’s typically the fastest one in the first round. She was the fastest in our class the other day with the last fence down, so she’s quick across the ground. The numbers [of strides] set up nicely for me today. With my size stride she was able to keep coming, and Ben [Maher] couldn’t do one less but had to do it slower.”
The jump-off became a battle of the world’s best as the second ranked rider in the world, Martin Fuchs, rounded out the podium aboard Conner 70, a 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Connor 48 x Cosimo owned by Thomas Fuchs. The pair came close to the runner-up position, sliding into third with a time of 36.205, just five-thousandths of a second behind Maher, who sits fifth in the world rankings.
Ward, currently ranked 14th in the world, bought the winning mare in mid-December and their partnership continues to blossom. “She’s a special horse,” said Ward. “She’s a really good jumper and very careful but she’s also a little bit spicy and likes to go her own way. It has taken us a little bit of time to try to figure each other out, and I think it’s starting to turn the corner in a good direction. She has a lot of ability, a little bit of personality, and we just need to meet our minds.”
The process to get to this point has been through some trial and error along with small adjustments in their preparation of the mare for the show. Ultimately, those adjustments have paid off with a victory on Sunday. “We’ve played around with some different bits,” he said. “We’ve also adjusted how we work her on the flat. She just doesn’t have all the experience in the world so it’s a matter of stepping her up, letting her digest things, and then she grows from it.”