On Friday, four-time Olympic medalist McLain Ward (USA) predicted that his “old partner” HH Azur “still has some big wins left in the tank even though she’s more in the sunset of her career.”
Come Sunday, the 16-year-old Belgian warmblood proved him correct.
Ward and his longtime partner successfully defending their title in the $200,000 Empire State Grand Prix CSI4* at New York’s Old Salem Farm Spring Horse Shows. It’s the 17th 1.60m win of the mare’s career and 29th podium finish at that height, according to JUMPR App.
“Annie,” as she’s known in the shedrow, has an incredible 70% top 10 strike rate at the 1.60m level (JUMPR App)—all of which have been achieved with Ward.
The world No. 9 took over the reins from Spain’s Diego Perez in 2015 and logged four 1.60m wins that same year. In 2016, they captured three more, along with an Olympic team silver, then added another four in 2017, after sweeping all three rounds of the World Cup Final to take the title.
The wins haven’t stopped since. Even sidelined by injuries—Azur tore a muscle in her side during CHIO Aachen in 2018 and twisted a hind ankle at the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final in September 2019—and by a pandemic shortened season in 2020, Ward and HH Azur have added one 1.60m win or more to her record every year but 2018.
In 2022, they’ve posted two so far.
“I always tell her when I get on, ‘You don’t owe me a single jump, but if you could give me a few more, that would be nice,’” said Ward.
On Sunday, Annie gave him 22 more in the ring.
Only four of the 31 entries found a clear path around Alan Wade’s challenging first round course. Devin Ryan (USA) and Eddie Blue were the pathfinders, later joined by Paul O’Shea (IRL), Ward and former Ward student Katie Dinan (USA).
But none could come close to matching the massive stride and foot speed of Ward’s winning mare.
First to return, Ryan and Eddie Blue set the time to beat at 38.25 seconds. O’Shea’s jump off bid ended at the first fence with a refusal (they returned to jump the rest clean). Ward and Annie shave a second off the clock, crossing the timers in 37.29 to take over the lead. Last to return, Dinan’s 38.11 was good enough for second and secured the win for Ward.
The victory marks his third FEI win of the week after topping the leaderboard in Thursday’s $37,000 FEI CSI4* Two-Phase and Friday’s $65,000 Welcome Stake aboard the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Faro.