Few things are more thrilling in sport that a rivalry between athletes. Even a fabricated one.
Like the one we’re concocting between Olympians Eric Lamaze (CAN) and McLain Ward (USA) right now, despite any evidence whatsoever to back it up.
But let’s just roll with it, m’kay?
Two weeks ago, the Canadian Olympic individual gold medalist (Lamaze) recorded his 27th victory in the history of the WEF Challenge Cup. The class is the qualifier for the weekly Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL. Ward previously held the title for most victories in the Series, having won it some 24 times.
On Thursday, he closed the gap once again.
Not to be outdone by the Canadian sensation, Ward inched his way closer to Lamaze’s title when he captured the $132,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 5 with his 2016 Olympic mount HH Azur. To do so, he beat nine fellow Olympians and 56 total entries to claim his 25th victory in the class.
In our minds though, it was Lamaze on Fine Lady (also his 2016 Olympic mount), Ward set out to beat.
Both figuratively. (Because in this rendition of events, it’s his life’s mission to beat Lamaze every. time). And literally. (In the competitive sense.)
Of the 16 to return for the jump off (19 went clear in the first round), Lamaze set the time to beat at a blazing 39.94 seconds.
Ward would be the only other rider to come under the 40 second mark.
Second last to go, the reigning World Cup champion and his big strided mare did eight strides from fence one to two to shave seven hundredths of a second off Lamaze’s time, stopping the timers at 39.23 seconds.
“That was a tough turn for a big horse, because you couldn’t change your mind,” said Ward. “I was lucky enough to see Spencer [Smith] go before me and do eight (strides), and I thought I could do eight there. I was able to use my stride in a few places. When things show up for her like that, she is fast. If I have to check up, that’s where a horse like Eric’s can beat me, because it checks faster.”
[Translation: you could have beat me, Eric. But not today, friend. Not. To. Day.]
It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that riding for the win is Ward’s long-term plan this winter circuit.
“We wanted to compete a little bit,” he confirmed. “She’s had a nice, long rest. It’s great prize money. I feel that the best way to get her on her game and get her fitness level to where I want it by the end of circuit is to compete a little bit, without doing anything insane. She needs to be in the groove.
“She feels great; she feels strong,” he continued. “I think she’s only going to get better and better as the circuit goes on.”
Presumably, that means sticking it to his (alleged) rival a few times more this season.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that both riders had won the WEF Challenge Cup 25 times each.