An Electrifying Win For McLain Ward and HH Azur As They Capture The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in Geneva

McLain Ward and HH Azur McLain Ward and HH Azur Photos by International Horse Press
December 11, 2022

Sunday afternoon at the Palaexpo in Geneva where the CHI de Genève was held, following an emotional goodbye to the horse that made history, Clooney 51, the Rolex Grand Prix held during the CHI de Genève kept the public glued to their seats until the very last horse-rider combination. With 40 competitors vying for first place honors, of which 13 proceeded faultlessly to the jump-off, McLain Ward and HH Azur performed to an amazing ride closing a little over a second faster than 2021 winners, Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei, thus capturing their first Major win at the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in Geneva.

McLain Ward & HH Azur - Photo Courtesy Rolex Equestrianism | Official Website

“We aspire to these big shows. It’s our life, what we dream,” said Ward who was in Geneva for the first time 30 years ago. “Last year it felt like her [HH Azur] career was coming to an end. She was still carrying a bit of an injury; it was not serious but I was beginning to wonder if this wasn’t going to be her last year before being put out to pasture. As it turned out, it only took a few little changes here and there, particularly with her shoes, for her to get back into Olympic shape. Coming back this year she is incredibly healthy; she had all clear rounds except once for a time fault which was a rider’s error. “Beating any of these guys is a feat. I've had many adventures here, ups and downs, and I have tons of memories. My entourage always loves to come in large numbers because they love this competition. I am so incredibly proud to have won this Rolex Grand Prix.”
Once the action got going confronting the course built by Gérard Lachat, second in the jump-off Daniel Deusser and his amazing Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z was looking to claim his third win at a Major of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. The duo closed with a 42'58, but two horses later, Belgian rising star Gilles Thomas, took full risk and closed almost two seconds ahead.
Draw 21, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam set the new bar aboard the Grizmo Partners LLC-owned gray gelding by the great stallion Kannan, James Kann Cruz, by stopping the clock at 40’48.

Martin Fuchs & Leone Jei - Photo Courtesy Rolex Equestrianism | Official Website

With only two combinations left to go after him, Martin Fuchs aboard Leone Jei rode in the Palaexpo arena with a goal: that of winning his third victory in the Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva. The 24-year-old world number two and the talented grey by Baltic VDL owned by Adolfo Giuri did not disappoint as they performed beautifully and with no hesitation to a 39’77. “Goodbye to Clooney was my goal and today’s full of emotion highlight,” said 24-year-old Fuchs. “After that, I was focused, tried to go without faults, and as fast as I could. ‘Leone’ always jumps well here and we took all the risks but…McClain had a different idea!”
With Daniel Bluman (ISR) and his faithful Ladriano Z closing with a fault at the entry of the double, Fuchs left the door open to Ward and HH Azur who closed the event with a bang.
The flashy 16-year-old bay mare by Thunder v. Zuuthoeve, co-owned by Ward and Double H Farm, once again showed off her ability to leave the rails up, as she did in the seven Grand Prix competitions during 2022. McLain piloted and she performed, he risked and she played along, he asked her to fly like the wind, and she did. Once they jumped over the final Rolex oxer and galloped past the timeline, a 38’43 appeared on the scoreboard. “She almost jumped me out of my boots,” said a smiling Ward. “She’s a queen, and when she’s out there, she’s a warrior. She’s definitely one of those horses that have changed my life and made a mark on my career, along with Sapphire maybe. “I am thrilled and cannot thank my team enough. [Cayce]Harrison is a great supporter of the sport, and Frank [François Mathy], who discovered HH Azur, is like a father to me. I am very touched by this win that I’ve been dreaming of since I was a youngster—I am touched and want to say ‘merci’ to the public in Geneva.”
Plans for HH Azur are now to take a well-deserved rest as McLain, his wife Lauren, and daughters Lilly and Madison looked forward to the Christmas holidays.

Shane Sweetnam & James Kann Cruz - Photo Courtesy Rolex Equestrianism | Official Website

Sweetnam closed riding the third step of the podium aboard the flashy Irish bred grey gelding, James Kann Cruz. “Ireland has bred incredible horses and this gelding’s mother is by Cruising, an incredible stallion who won here in 1998. He definitely passes his personality on passed on to his progeny,” said the Irish rider based in Wellington, FL, where he runs his Sweet Oaks Farm. “This is the biggest result he has obtained in his career and will now get a break. We will then be showing at WEF [Wellington International WEF] and then we will go from there.”
Once the amazing Palaexpo lights went down, General Director Sophie Mottu Morel congratulated all the athletes that took part in the 61st edition of the CHI de Genève where the 2022 edition attracted over 44,000 visitors. Mottu Morel also announced the dates for the 2023 edition which will be held on December 6-12.
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By Simona Diale, International Horse Press