Consider McLain Ward (USA) and Contagious’s tickets to the FEI World Championship in Denmark next month booked.
Because if you can win the 1.60m classes at CHIO Aachen, the final team observation event for the Americans, you can win anywhere. And Ward and his Tokyo Games partner have already done it this week. Twice.
Ward and the 13-year-old chestnut gelding caught their first win with Wednesday’s Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe 1.60m, a moment the four-time Olympic medalist described as a dream come true. Come Friday, it was deja vu as the pair led the victory gallop in the the RWE Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia 1.60m at the iconic venue.
Fifty of the world’s best contested Friday’s feature class designed by Frank Rothenberger, the final opportunity to qualify for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix. Sixteen combinations found fault-free paths around the 14 obstacle track, including 1992 Individual Olympic champion Ludger Beerbaum (GER), Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender Daniel Deusser (GER), 2012 Olympic champion Steve Guerdat (SUI) and World No. 5 Conor Swail (IRL). [Read: the jump off was stacked.]
“I think the number of clear rounds both over the course today and on Wednesday shows how many horses and riders are focused on this event and the quality of the ground and that the horses are jumping great on this surface,” said Ward.
The short track saw the lead changed hands multiple times, as the time to beat dropped from 42.95 seconds to 42.79 then to 42.39 with only Harrie Smolders (NED) and McLain Ward (USA) to go.
In the end, it wasn’t even close.
Ward and Contagious sped through the timers in 41.70 seconds to clinch the win.
“I think he’s [Contagious] on really good form,” understated Ward, “and we’re aiming him towards the World Championships, it’s one of the reasons we had this week planned for him, so we’ll stick to our plan and hopefully be able to be in the mix.”
And by “hopefully” he means certainly in the mix.
Ward will point his 2016 Olympic mount HH Azur at Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix.
“It’s always nice to have a good week, as it gives you confidence. It makes you take a breath and focus. Azur [HH Azur] is older now and I know her very well, she’s my old friend. We’ll just do what we do, I don’t think today or Wednesday has much to do with what’s going to happen on Sunday. We’ll just focus and do the best job we can on the day.”
And hopefully earn another NFT...?