At 17, Azur is at the Top of Her Game
Photo by The Dutch Masters / Thomas Lovelock
Over the weekend, McLain Ward and HH Azur claimed the Rolex Grand Prix at the Dutch Masters, keeping their Rolex Grand Slam dreams alive. They remain the Rolex Grand Slam Live Contenders after starting their streak in Geneva in December.
HH Azur's resume speaks for itself. The tremendous mare gave Ward his first World Cup Finals victory (2017) and helped the United States secure silver at the Rio Olympic Games (2016).
That was, respectively, six and seven years ago.
Azur has jumped four championships, the most recent in 2018, when she and Ward finished fourth in the 2018 World Cup Finals in defense of their 2017 title. The fact that the mare continues to jump at the top levels of the sport is impressive in itself. Her dominance in the past three months represents an absolute masterclass in management.
"I try to be honest with myself. Does she feel good enough to keep asking this test at this age? Obviously, she keeps answering with a resounding, yes," Ward said following his milestone victory. "She has a pretty light jumping schedule and a very light show schedule."
Since 2022, Azur has made just 17 international starts. Keep in mind that most horses jump 2-3 classes at each show. "Annie" has jumped at 11 shows in the last 15 months, jumping one class apiece at CSI5* WEF 12 and CSI5* Dinard in 2022. In all of her other competitions, she jumped two classes. (For comparison, Ward jumped another top mount, Contagious in 33 international classes from 2022 to present—nearly double the number of classes).
It can be tempting to chase the large amount of prize money available in the calendar when there were 28 five-star events last year in North America alone (plus another 42 in Europe). But McLain was patient and targeted his mare for only the biggest events.
Consider the quantity low, and the quality high.
In 17 starts between January 2022 and March 12, 2023, Ward and HH Azur earned $1,308,983 and recorded five victories for a remarkable 29.41 percent win clip. They are averaging a score of just 1.84 faults and jumping clear 55% of the time.
In seven starts at 1.60m or above, in this span, Azur has not touched a pole in the first round of competition (1 time fault) and has averaged a finish position of 2.7. She has not finished outside the top 10 in this span and was on the podium in 5 of these 7 starts, with 4 wins.
All hail Queen Annie. Congratulations to McLain Ward and his team, and best of luck on the road to Aachen!