Words and picture by Nancy Jaffer

On his 17th attempt to win the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final, McLain Ward finally broke his jinx in style, leading with HH Azur through five rounds of jumping to take the title that had eluded him for so long.

“I’ve been very close so many times and in one way or another messed it up,” he said on an emotional afternoon. Noting that he has had many supporters behind him who helped his career over the years, he explained, “to try to pull one off for them was very, very important to me. I just took a breath, believed in my horse, had a little luck and it came off. I owe a lot of people thanks.”

The competition in Omaha, Nebraska’s CenturyLink Center on Sunday 2 April marked the first time since 1980 that an American had won the cup at home. The US victory was a fitting way to christen a new venue for the sport. It drew rave reviews for everything from the stabling, warm-up and arena all under one roof, to the way the competition was presented.

Azur, an 11-year-old Belgian mare by Thunder vd Zuuthoeve, who was McLain’s team silver medal mount in Rio, never dropped a rail. McLain’s closest competitor was Switzerland’s Romain Duguet on a 10-year-old mare, Twentytwo des Biches, who was competing in her first championship.

That Selle Francais by Mylord Carthago had nearly as good a record at the final as Azur, toppling only one pole in the course of the week. Had McLain dropped a rail, it would have forced a jump-off, but Azur was jumping beautifully as the crowd of 7,860 cheered her on through the final two rounds on the last day of the show.

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Interestingly, the top three finishers all were mounted on mares. Henrik von Eckermann of Sweden, who finished third four penalties behind Romain, was aboard an 11-year-old Westfalen, Mary Lou by Montendro.

No British riders competed. The only Irish rider, Denis Lynch, finished 17th with 24 penalties after coming into the final day with 15 penalties on All Star, a 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion by Argentinus.

Don’t miss the full report from the World Cup jumping and dressage finals, in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 April.