San Juan Capistrano, CA – McLain Ward rode Kasper van het Hellehof to a thrilling victory in the CSIO5* Longines Grand Prix in front of a full crowd at the San Juan Capistrano International on Friday, May 12, in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
Olympic course designer Leopoldo Palacios set a challenging track on the grass Oaks International Grand Prix Field at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park that saw only two of 21 entries produce clear rounds. From there, it came down to a showdown between Ward and Mexico’s Jose Antonio Chedraui Eguia.
Aboard H-Lucky Retto, owned by Eguia and P Dolfsma, Eguia was the first to return for the short course, and he set the standard for Ward to beat at 38.31 seconds. Ward and Kasper van het Hellehof rose to the occasion on their U.S. home turf, clearing the final Longines vertical in 37.42 seconds for the win. While second place went to Eguia, Brazil’s Cassio Rivetti rounded out the top three aboard Nadale van Dorperheide.
McLain Ward and Kasper van het Hellehof were presented as the winners of the CSIO5* Longines Grand Prix. Joining them in the presentation were San Juan Capistrano Mayor Howard Hart and his wife, Laura; West-Coast-based owner Robin Parsky of the Kasper Group LLC; City Council Members John Campbell and Tami Wilhelm; Longines West Coast Regional Sales Manager Kirsten Warner; and Hillary Ridland, CEO of Blenheim EquiSports and the President of the Nations Cup Organizing Committee. Photo by McCool Photography
“Kasper really performed beautifully,” said Ward. “He’s been a great campaigner for us. [Jose Antonio Chedraui Eguia] I thought actually did the smart round. That’s what I thought he was going to do – be neat and clear and try to hope that I made a mistake and had a fence down. The first turn wasn’t great for me; Kasper’s left turn is a little bit difficult. He likes to kind of run off to the right. When I got that under my belt, I thought, ‘Just keep it smooth.’ I knew I was able to do one less to the last than Antonio.”
Ward has been partnered with “Kasper” for the past two years – originally taking on the ride for Poden Farms before the 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood was purchased by current owners, The Kasper Group LLC.
“His ownership team is a group of people who are really behind the United States in international competition,” said Ward. “I think it makes it all that much sweeter to win our home Nations Cup grand prix.”
While the CSIO5* Longines Grand Prix victory is a highly significant one for Ward and marks Kasper’s first CSI5* win, it’s Sunday’s Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA that Ward really has his eyes on.
“The most important part of this week for us is the Nations Cup; our first opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games is the Nations Cup Final which will be in September in Barcelona,” explained Ward. “We have to qualify out of our league, so these three Nations Cup – the first in Mexico, which we were successful at and won; here in San Juan Capistrano and then on to Langley. Our backs are against the wall. This is a must-do. I think all of the best riders and supporters of horses in our country are trying to come together and get this job done.”
The U.S. is not alone in that mission, with the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA attracting many of the world’s best riders to San Juan Capistrano, CA, providing an opportunity to compete on the West Coast that Ward appreciates.
“I love it here; I always enjoy coming to compete on the West Coast,” concluded Ward. “I think it’s a great part of the world for our sport. I have family from the West Coast, so it always feels a little bit comfortable for me. It feels like coming home. You can’t have an anymore beautiful venue than here and San Juan Capistrano and the beaches.”