After winning his seventh Hampton Classic Grand Prix — more than twice as many as any other rider in history — McLain Ward was not ready to discuss his legacy just yet. There is, as he pointed out later on Sunday, too much riding still left to come.
“I think about the few times I’ve been second,” Ward joked when he was asked about his place in history by longtime Classic communications director, Marty Bauman. “I think that’s something you look back on in the end and you reflect on your career. I appreciate the wins and I appreciate the horses and I appreciate the good parts, but I try not to focus on that too much. I try to focus on the goals ahead. That’s for someone else to write.”
Ward on Sunday wrote the perfect ending to another successful week at the 43rdedition of the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton. He outdueled four other riders in the Grand Prix jump-off and captured the first-place prize of $99,000 aboard HH Gigi’s Girl, a 10-year-old grey mare owned by Double H Farm in Wellington, Florida.
The Grand Prix, presented by Douglas Elliman with a $300,000 purse, featured 35 riders in total, but only five who rode clean in the opening round across course designer Michael Vaillancourt’s challenging layout. With Ward, Lucy Davis, Mario Deslauriers and Lindsay Douglass having already qualified for the jump-off, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, who won the $30,000 Longines Rider Challenge presented to the rider with the best combined scores throughout the week, rode last and also clean to set up a dramatic showdown with Ward and the other riders in a jump-off.
Sweetnam has won just about every class at the Hampton Classic except for the Grand Prix, and when the dust settled on Sunday he had finished second behind Ward, who rode clean in the jump-off with a time of 39.32 seconds. Ward said later that he knew he had to go fast, especially with Sweetnam riding last, but he was also conservative on certain parts of the course.
“The line from the Jaguar vertical to the last jump ended up being a steady seven strides,” he said. “But it was one of those lines where although the seven seemed steady, almost holding, doing six strides would become kamikaze. I also didn’t know what quality the jump would be off the full rollback to the Jaguar. Gigi slipped just a tiny bit on the tight rollback turn she made to the Jaguar fence, which actually worked out perfectly because it meant I could support and push up to it. However, she is young and still a bit inexperienced. I knew I had done a lot already and, heading down that last line, I had to take a bit off the gas pedal.”
Eventual third-place finisher Lucy Davis was unable to catch Ward’s time and Sweetnam had to contend with bucking by his horse, Main Road, which, as he explained later, is a common occurrence he has had to deal with. Together they crossed through the timers with no jumping faults in a time of 41.24 seconds to finish in second place.
“I’ve had a brilliant week. McLain was hungrier and won it today,” said Sweetnam, who will now have to wait another year before another attempting to capture his first Hampton Classic Grand Prix. “If you’re always knocking at the door, you’re going to get through the door at some point.”
“For all of us, this is a journey,” Ward added at the close of Sunday’s press conference, ending a long week at the Classic. “We’re lucky enough to get to share this history with our horses, which is obviously our partner, but also an incredible group of people. It’s a wonderful life. I always say to young people, ‘The Olympics, that goal, that’s the cherry on top. We just try to keep doing our job well. We don’t always have perfect moments, but we get up again tomorrow and try harder.’”