By Raun Norquist
The champagne has been poured and the tents are gone, along with the horses and their riders, marking the end of the 35th Hampton Classic Horse Show.
Of all the riding talent showcased during the week, in the end it was McLain Ward’s show. The two-time Olympic Team Gold Medalist and last year’s Hampton Classic Grand Prix winner won again. He took home the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix and FEI World Cup, adding to the record he already holds. It is his fifth win overall and he is the third horse/rider combination to win the FTI Grand Prix in back-to-back competitions.
Ward had a week of fine performances including a win on Rothchild, owned by Sagamore Farms of Bridgehampton, for $7,500 in the Open Jumper Class on September 1. On September 4, while riding Pjotter Van De Zonnehoeve, owned by Louisberg Farms, Ward took second place in the $30,000 FENDI Open Jumper. But it was on his own trusty steed Sapphire, that he completed two flawless rounds winning the Grand Prix with a time of 40.85 seconds. The capacity crowd erupted from a hush to an explosion of cheers.
The FTI Grand Prix course, designed by Brazillian, Guilherme Jorge, new this year to the Classic, attracted 36 riders for Round 1. Only four completed faultless first rounds, qualifying for the jump-off. Darragh Kenny, 22, of Ireland and the youngest on the roster, had the unenviable first position on Obelix of Trade Wind Farms. He made a clear round with a time of 44.04 seconds. Margie Engle of Wellington, Fla. on Indigo, owned by Gladewinds Farm Inc. and Shay Griese, went next but had a knock down rail early in the round, earning four faults and eventual fourth place. Third to go in the jump-off was Jimmy Torano riding Vince from Bynum Farms, Fla.
Torano had a clear round and took the lead with 42.93 seconds but his glory was undone by Ward. Torano was bested by only 2.08 but was gracious in defeat.
“To me, being second to McLain and Sapphire is a win,” remarked Torano. “In my opinion, he is the best rider in the world and Sapphire is as good as it gets.”
“I owe her my career,” said Ward of Sapphire, his 15-year-old mare whom he debuted at the Hampton Classic nine years ago. “Sapphire is not naturally a fast type horse, she has learned to be fast. 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,” he added. “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.”
Other noteworthy performances include Peter Leone’s win of the $20,000 Nicolock Challenge on opening day. Alida Rose won the 2-to-4 year old and Heidi Horowitz won the 5-to-7 in the Leadline Competititon. Darragh Kenny had the “luck of the Irish” on his side taking a double header, winning the Brown Harris Stevens and Newsday Open Jumper Classes in the Grand Prix ring Tuesday. Shane Sweetnam and Spy Coast Farm’s “Belle Bleu S” blew away competition in the $7,500 Wölffer Estate contest. Mario Deslauriers, of New York found his way to the top of the class in the $50,000 Spy Cost Farm Grand Prix Qualifier.