Twice is Nice for Mclain Ward During Horseware Ireland Week at Wellington International

March 16. 2024

U.S. Olympic team gold medalist Mclain Ward won his second feature of the week in the $215,000 Horseware Ireland CSI4* Grand Prix during the Winter Equestrian Festival’s (WEF) ‘Saturday Night Lights’ at Wellington International. Ward led the victory gallop aboard Contagious, the 15-year-old Rhinelander gelding owned by Beechwood Stables that also carried him to team silver at the Tokyo Olympics and most recently team gold at the Pan American Games in Chile last summer.

Mclain Ward & Contagious, winners of the $215,000 Horseware Ireland CSI4* Grand Prix. Photo © Sportfot

Ward was elated with the seasoned gelding’s performance, noting, “Contagious (Contagio x For Keeps) has been a great partner and I’m very grateful to Beachwood and Lise Revers for having the horse be with me for his whole career. He's getting older now and it’s a little more work, but he's got a huge heart. 

“He's had a bit of four-fault-itis here in Florida; two great grand prix with one down, but I felt that he'd jump well tonight. It was a very hot night and a quick turnaround for us,” continued Ward, who jumped last in both rounds. “I only jumped three jumps in the schooling area because I didn't want to let him bottom out. He dug in deep and we were lucky to go last.”

Mclain Ward & Contagious are presented as winners of the $215,000 Horseware Ireland CSI4* Grand Prix by Paula Woodward, North American Marketing Coordinator for Horseware Ireland. Photo © Sportfot

Only three horses jumped clear over Oscar Soberon’s (USA) challenging track. U.S. Olympic team silver medalist Lucy Davis led the way with new mount Ben 431 and was later joined by Belgium's Nicola Philippaerts aboard Derby de Riverland and Ward from final draw. Ward’s jump-off time of 43.24 seconds handed him the win over Philippaerts in 44.19 seconds. Davis settled for third after pulling a rail in the short course. 

Of the difficult track, Ward recalled, “When I walked, I thought the jumps were placed so you couldn't get quite straight and were always coming in at a bit of an angle. Interestingly enough, you had two very experienced horses go clear. Nicola's horse is a younger horse but very talented and he's a very good rider. I thought there'd be a few more clear, but it proved to be challenging and the time [allowed] was just enough to force mistakes.

“You can have a little rub, have four faults and be very frustrated, or if that same rail stays up, you win the grand prix and you're a hero,” said Ward of his fight for top finishes at the season’s close. “It's a fine line, but I'm grateful to the horses and to be able to keep banging heads with these riders.”

Ward is finishing the season strong as he looks ahead to Olympic qualification this spring and sits on a talented string of horses. “Our focus is on Paris. I think Contagious is getting a bit long in the tooth for another championship, but Callas has a lot still left in her tank, so she's certainly on the radar. We have an exciting new horse, Ilex, that we think can do incredible things. We have a few options and a plan with each of them that leads to Paris in the best form. We hope that we can make the team and bring home another medal.”

Nicola Philippaerts & Derby de Riverland. Photo © Sportfot

Jumping off just before Ward, Philippaerts left everything he had in the ring and was thrilled with Derby de Riverland, an 11-year-old Selle Français gelding (Kannan x L’Arc de Triomphe) owned by Team Philippaerts and Pierre Cimolai.

“He is a fantastic horse,” said Philippaerts, who took over the reins halfway through 2023 after the mount was piloted by his younger brother. Thibault Philippaerts produced the horse up the ranks and won both team gold and individual silver at the 2022 European Championships for Young Riders in Oliva, Spain.

“He's very careful and I think he improved a lot this year here in Wellington,” continued Nicola. “It helped him to develop on a higher level and today is proof that he's ready for some bigger rankings. You always try to win of course, but Mclain is very hard to beat. I tried to give it a go and he jumped fantastic, but I think the best horse-rider combination won today.”

Davis acquired Ben 431 in December and has been focused on Olympic qualification goals while in Florida for the winter season. Ben 431, a 13-year Westphalian gelding (Sylvian x Quincy Jones) is owned by Old Oak Group and has collected accolades from around the world with Germany’s Gerrit Nieberg, including a win in the 2022 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen.

After taking a break from international competition over the last several seasons, Davis was back under the glow of Wellington’s ‘Saturday Night Lights’ and soaking up the spotlight. “I'm just happy to be back in it,” she said. “It's day by day with a new horse, and it started out well at a lower level. I think the beauty of making mistakes is you get to learn and tweak and fine tune. Even though sometimes the scores aren't always what you want in certain rounds, there's something you can improve, and I was really pleased that tonight we finally felt like one. I'm excited for the future with this horse.”

Lucy Davis & Ben 431. Photo © Sportfot

Ward also took top call in the Adequan® WEF challenge Cup qualifier on Thursday on First Lady, and as a result, accepted the Martha Jolicoeur Leading International Rider Award, presented together with Michael and Wendy Smith.

Mclain Ward, aboard Contagious, accepted the Martha Jolicoeur Leading International Rider Award, presented together with Michael and Wendy Smith. Photo © Sportfot

To cap the evening, Ward’s groom and Contagious' caregiver, Virginie Casterman, was presented with the $500 Grooms Award by Double H Farm. 

Virginie Casterman accepting the $500 Grooms Award, presented by Double H Farm. Photo © Sportfot

Top Five Results: $215,000 Horseware Ireland CSI4* Grand Prix

  1. Mclain Ward (USA) & Contagious: 2009 Rhinelander gelding (Contagio x For Keeps)
    Owner: Beechwood Stables, LLC
  2. Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) & Derby de Riverland: 2013 Selle Français gelding (Kannan x L’Arc de Triomphe)
    Owners: Team Philippaerts & Pierre Cimolai
  3. Lucy Davis (USA) & Ben 431: 2011 Westphalian gelding (Sylvian x Quincy Jones)
    Owner: Old Oak Group
  4. Spencer Brittan (USA) & Stakan 4: 2012 Hanoverian gelding (Spartacus TN x For Pleasure)
    Owner: Ammann Equestrian, LLC
  5. Harry Charles (GBR) & Aralyn Blue: 2011 Oldenburg mare (Chacco-Blue x Ludwig AS)
    Owner: Ann Thompson & Peter Charles

View Complete Results