United States Olympic rider McLain Ward took the Hampton Classic’s top honor on Sunday, September 2, jumping into first place for the seventh time — making history — during the $300,000 Grand Prix presented by Douglas Elliman.
Ward, a native of Brewster, NY, completed the course, which was designed by Michel Vaillancourt, in 39.32 seconds atop HH Gigi’s Girl, a 10-year-old gray mare owned by Double H Farm. Shane Sweetnam, one of several Irish riders to compete in the event, took second place with a time of 41.24 seconds atop Main Road. Lucy Davis came in third place atop Caracho with a time of 42.47 seconds.
Ward, who has ridden to two gold medals and one silver in four Olympics, was the Longines Federation Equestre Internationale World Cup Champion in 2017. His victory in the Grand Prix was not entirely easy though, as he faced a challenging course that not many riders took without penalties. He stumbled on it himself, as did Sweetnam. Ward said he was aware Sweetnam, who has been dubbed part of the “Irish invasion” at the Classic, was a threat and noted he is a “very fast rider who was in great form” the whole week.
“Gigi is a great developing young horse, but with not so much experience. She loses a little time in the air, but she is very brave and I thought maybe I could risk it back up on that vertical a bit. It was one of those things. If it shows up, you’re a hero. And every once in a while, it doesn’t show up and the results are different, but it worked out today,” he said.
Sweetnam said he saw Ward’s stumble.
“He stumbled and it worked out for him. It gave him the gap that he wanted. He took the chance, and like he said, sometimes it works for you and that makes the difference,” he said.
Davis, a bronze medalist at the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games and silver medalist at the 2016 Olympics, said she was happy for her performance in the competition, noting that she has been working with Caracho since he was seven years old. “I always thought he was going to be very special and just started moving him up to this level, and he is proving to be even more special. I am so proud of him and I am even more excited for the future,” she said.
All three riders received Longines watches. It was the third timepiece for Sweetnam, who was awarded the $30,000 Longines Rider Challenge for the second year in a row. He received additional watches for taking first in Friday’s $75,000 Douglas Elliman Grand Prix Qualifier presented by Longines and Saturday’s $70,000 Longines Cup, prompting jokes at the press conference that he will never have an excuse to be late again.
Both Ward and Sweetnam will be riding in the World Equestrian Games next week in Mill Spring, NC, for the U.S. and Ireland, respectively.
When asked about the prospect of competing, Ward said, “I think that we have a strong team. There are always questions and doubts,” he added, noting, “You always want to stay focused and it will go your way.”