‘I never thought he’d be a championship horse’: overnight leader McLain Ward on his Jumping World Cup Final ride

  • The USA’s McLain Ward will head into the final round of the FEI Jumping World Cup Final in pole position with Contagious, after an impressive victory in today’s second round.

    This is McLain’s 19th World Cup Final; he won the title in 2017, but he is trying not to let the pressure affect his gameplan for the rest of the competition.

    “I’ve been in pole position before. I have sat here in the lead going into the World Cup Final and then blew it, but I’ve also sat here in this position and then won,” he said. “I try to use all those experiences to help me get my head right. You have to have a bit of good fortune to win one of these championships and understanding this helps you keep your head in the right place. I’m proud of my horse no matter what happens, and we’ll do our best on Sunday.”

    McLain has brought his 2021 Olympic ride to Leipzig, the 13-year-old Contagio gelding Contagious, with whom he won team silver in Tokyo last summer. The chestnut has been hugely successful over the past year and McLain admits that he has exceeded expectations.

    “In the beginning when we first had him he was very careful and I thought he’d be a nice level grand prix horse; I never actually thought he’d be a championship horse,” said McLain. “But he kept building scope and developing, and he has ended up jumping at the Olympics. He has been a different horse since then, too, he has come back stronger. His father was the same I think; him being so super careful outshone his natural ability at the start.”

    McLain adds that the talented gelding, who is remarkably quick across the ground, is “a bit of a character”.

    “He is a bit spooky, and a bit jumpy. But he is also an incredible trier.”

    Jumping World Cup Final: who else is in contention?

    Just behind McLain going into Sunday’s final round is the Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders, who finished in ninth position on day one with the 13-year-old Cassini II son Monaco, and took fourth place today, with just one pole down in the jump-off. Harry Charles sits just a single point behind on the leaderboard in joint third with Thursday’s round one winner Martin Fuchs.

    “The most important thing to me coming into Sunday is that I’m not more than a fence behind the podium,” said Harry, who is certainly up on his goal in third, just five penalties behind the leader.

    Gerrit Nieberg is the best of the German contingent coming into the final round, in fifth, while Britain’s Jack Whitaker has shot up the rankings following his third-place finish today with Equine America Valmy De La Lande, now siting joint ninth with Sweden’s Jens Fredricson. Jack’s uncle John Whitaker is just behind in 11th, 10 penalties from the top spot.

    The final round of the Jumping World Cup Final takes place on Sunday (10 April) at 4.45pm (1.45pm BST).

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