McLain Ward (USA) riding Callas - second place at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ NAL 2022/2023 - Fort Worth (USA). Photo by ©FEI/Shannon Brinkman
The show jumping calendar simply doesn't sleep. There's just a single day between the end of the now-13-week marathon that is the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) and the start of the 2023 FEI World Cup™ Finals.
So, no rest for McLain Ward, who heads to Omaha looking to defend his 2017 title, when the Finals were last held in Nebraska's largest city. That victory also happened to be his first in the Finals, in which he's competed 19 times.
It's worth noting that his winning mount in 2017 was HH Azur, who six years later has made Ward the current Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, with wins at both Geneva and 's-Hertogenbosch.
It goes without saying that Ward remains a top contender in Omaha, though he'll bring forward neither Azur nor Contagious, his silver medal-winning mount from the Tokyo Olympic Games. With a loaded string, he's got Callas, who in her own right took a five-star Grand Prix victory in Wellington earlier this winter.
Who should you be watching? Prixview has analyzed the numbers on the top contenders for show jumping's most prestigious annual indoor championship:
PERFORMANCE INDOORS AT 1.60M
Martin Fuchs/Leone Jei
Henrik von Eckermann/King Edward
Julien Epaillard/Donatello D'Auge
Daniel Deusser/Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z
PERFORMANCE AT FEI WORLD CUP™ FINALS (SINCE 2013)
Henrik von Eckermann
The Big Four
Rider: McLain Ward (USA)
Horse: Callas (2008 Holsteiner mare; Casall x Coriano)
Ward had originally planned to bring both Callas and Contagious to World Cup Finals, but he's ultimately elected to go solo with Callas, who has hit her stride over the course of the last four months. Since December, the pair finished second Fort Worth's World Cup qualifier; won a CSI5* Grand Prix in Wellington; and finished sixth in Ocala's World Cup in March.
Their numbers are exceptional indoors, considering there are fewer opportunities to jump at such venues in the United States compared to Europe.
Rider: Henrik von Eckermann (SWE)
Horse: King Edward (2010 Belgium bred gelding, Edward 28 x Feo)
World No. 1 Henrik von Eckermann is on an absolute tear. He became the first athlete in the World Cup's Western European League to surpass 100 points in a single qualifying season, largely thanks to results with his superstar horse, King Edward.
Eckermann has aimed King Edward specifically to this championship. This pair already boasts three gold medals from Tokyo and Herning and boasts the best numbers indoors at 1.60m of this group: 2.79 faults and a finish position in the top 8. Wow.
Rider: Martin Fuchs (SUI)
Horse: Leone Jei (2012 KWPN gelding, Baltic VDL x Corland)
Martin Fuchs is the event's defending champion, taking his first career title a year ago in Leipzig (GER). He will bring forward his top mount, Leone Jei to defend his title. Together, this pair received a team gold medal and individual silver at the 2021 European Championships. Similarly to King Edward, Leone Jei has excelled both outdoors and indoors and has clearly marked himself as a championship horse, with his consistent excellence over multiple rounds/days.
In four FEI World Cup™ Finals appearances in the last 10 years, Fuchs boasts the best averages of this group, averaging just 2.75 faults and a finish position in the top 8.
Rider: Daniel Deusser (BEL)
Horse: Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z (2008 Zangersheide stallion, Otangelo x Mr Blue)
You can't possibly overlook Daniel Deusser. He and Tobago finished fourth in these finals in 2019, when they were held in Gothenburg (SWE). They jumped clear in each of the three World Cup qualifiers they jumped during the 2022/2023 season.
How close are things at the top? Ward, Fuchs, von Eckermann and Deusser's fault averages indoors at 1.60m with these respective horses are separated by just 0.21 faults.
Who else is headed to Omaha with a hot hand?
Rider: Daniel Coyle (IRL)
Horse: Legacy (2010 Zangersheide mare, Chippendale Z x Bon Ami)
Daniel Coyle heads to his first World Cup Finals with Legacy, his mount from the 2022 FEI World Championships in Herning (DEN). Coyle heads to Omaha as the points leader from the North American League; he and Legacy were winners in both Toronto and Fort Worth.
Rider: Julien Epaillard (FRA)
Horse: Donatello D'Auge (2013 Selle Francais gelding, Jarnac x Hello Pierville)
This pair won Amsterdam's qualifier, and Epaillard took two other qualifying wins on the Western European League this season. Exceptionally talented, his horse is the youngest of this group.