McLain Ward (USA) has been breathing down Erynn Ballard’s neck all Week 1 of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida.

The American Olympic team gold medalist finished behind the Canadian rider in the week’s two biggest classes, coming in third with a double clear on Kasper van get Hellehof in Thursday’s $35,000 Adequan WEF Challenge Cup and sixth with Kassiodam in Friday’s $25,000 CaptiveOne Advisors Classic. Ballard won both classes.

Come Sunday’s $75,000 Bainbridge Companies Grand Prix, Ward was looking to put an end to her win streak.

“I’ve actually come behind her in both jump-offs, and I think tried a little too hard to beat her,” he said. “I thought about that a little bit last night, actually. Catoki, he’s either going to win or be close, particularly at this 1.50m level. He’s a real tiger.”

Of the 30 entries to contest the first Grand Prix of the winter season in Wellington, four combinations advanced to the jump off. Ward and 11-year-old Holsteiner set the time to beat with a fault-free time of 36.846 seconds over the Eric Hasbrouck-designed short course.

Said Ward, “He goes every time to win. Sometimes when you always go to win the class, it can blow up a little bit once in a while. He’s been a great campaign winner for us and so competitive. I felt like if I rode well, he would perform well today.”

Pressure was on Ballard to catch the efficient pair and she felt it.

“I felt so nervous today, more nervous than any other day this week because I felt like everyone was watching and I had to be good,” she confessed.

Alas, a rail at the second to last jump on course landed her and 10-year-old mare Kamilla D in the runner up position with a time of 36.994 seconds.

“My room for error was very small but she made the first round so easy for me. In the jump-off when you’re following McLain, you have to try. She’s green, I’m going fast, and fast and one down kept me second. So, there’s really nothing more I could ask of her this week,” said Ballard.

Finishing third with one rail in 37.126 seconds was 16-year-old Grace Debney (USA) and 10-year-old mare Zarina de Vidau. It was Debney’s third career Grand Prix.