In the end, it all came down to just over a tenth of a second.
That’s all it took for Olympian McLain Ward to walk away from Sunday’s $250,000 Grand Prix at the with the first place check for $75,000, leaving second-place finisher Kent Farrington with the red ribbon and a check for $55,000.
The winner was decided in an exciting jump-off held after the first portion of the class, during which seven riders made it through with a clear round. Riding first in the jump-off with the 10-year-old grey Dutch Warmblood gelding Uceko, owned by R.C.G. Farm, Farrington blazed through the challenging shorter course with a time of 32.96 seconds with no faults. The course included a difficult approach to a 1.60-meter (5-foot 3-inch) brick wall, then a tough rollback, or u-turn, to a light and airy combination of two fences — a part of the course that caused trouble for several other riders who made it to the jump off.
Ward, who hails from Brewster, made Hampton Classic history with this win, tying fellow Olympian Margie Engle’s record of winning three times in a row. He also added to his own record of winning the class a total of six times, twice as many as anyone else. Ward also , the $50,000 Spy Coast Farm Grand Prix Qualifier on Friday, and the $15,000 Prudential Douglas Elliman Open Jumper class on Thursday.
In a press conference held after the class completed, Farrington, who lives in Greenwich, Conn. said that although he had set a fast pace, he felt he may have left the door open for Ward to go just a little faster through the wall to double combination.
“I thought I was in trouble when I did eight strides. I thought I got hung up,” he said. “[Ward is] one of the best riders in the world and he’s also one of the fastest. I thought I left the door open.”
“I thought it was going to be tough to catch him,” Ward, who was riding a grey 11-year-old Baden-Wurttemberger gelding owned by Grant Road Partners LLC, said. “I watched Kent go and I said, 'My God, I would like to be in the clubhouse with that round.' I knew he had done eight strides to the third jump after the wall and I thought that was the only place maybe I could get him.”
Ward and Farrington are no strangers to each other on the show jumping circuit, as they both regularly challenge each other in their classes. Farrington, who won the prestigious Grand Prix at Hickstead, England earlier this summer, beat Ward at the $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational in Tampa, Fla. in April of this year. “He’s always been a thorn in my side in the best way,” Ward said of Farrington.
Coming in third with a time of 40.11 and no jumping faults was Ljubov Kochetova, riding the youngest horse in the competition — an extremely athletic 7-year-old Oldenburg stallion called Royce, owned by Kochetova. Kochetova made history at this year’s Grand Prix being the first ever rider from Russia to compete. She and her horse were able to post a clear round despite a tough approach to an airy vertical following a long run to the water jump, a combination that dashed many rider’s chances of competing in the jump off. After the water jump, she and Royce were still going so fast they looked as though they would careen into the vertical, but the horse managed to get himself up and over without incident.
Speaking through a translator during the press conference, Kochetova said she was honored to be riding here, and said the course was particularly challenging because her horse is so young. Horses competing at this level typically are between the ages of 10 and 20.
Following a question from a reporter on the slower speed of her jump off-round, and whether she was just trying to post a clear round, Kochetova said that although her round was much slower than the top two, she was nevertheless riding for the win at the time. The top three finishers in the jump off were the only ones with a clear round, automatically placing them above the other competitors, who may have been faster, but who knocked one or several fences down.
“It seems like this because this horse is very young,” she said. “But I’m a real competitor, and I am always trying to win.”