It was a long way from swimming laps in the dark.

That was what McLain Ward was doing three years ago to the day, during the 2012 WEF finale grand prix jumpoff. A knee injury early in the season had kept him out of the saddle, and he was frustrated, and angry, that he wasn’t riding on the evening of March 31st, 2012.

He watched the first round of the grand prix from the VIP tent, and then left for his home just behind the showgrounds, close enough to hear the crowd and announcers from his backyard. “I was so frustrated that I wasn’t competing, so I went home to swim laps, and I could hear Daniel win.” Ward remembered. That year, the stars of the show were Daniel Bluman and Ian Millar, who battled it out in a close race for the 2012 win. Ward had unhappily spent the season on the sidelines, impatiently waiting for his knee to heal. As he swam laps and listened to the show go on without him, he undoubtedly knew that his chance to put Bluman in his place would eventually come, and that chance arrived last night. “I turned after the first jump and I said ‘I’ve got to get him back, I’ve got to get him back’,” Ward recounted. “This was a test, this grand prix, but it’s the finale of the season, and obviously I like these results!”

And Ward had plenty of company to cheer him on to this win. It seemed that everyone who had perhaps stayed home during the previous weeks of WEF grand prix competition got motivated to come out for the final Saturday Night Lights of the 2015 Winter Equestrian Festival – the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center was Packed (with a capital P) last night for the $500,000 CSI5* Rolex Grand Prix. Full results are here, enjoy this night in pictures, and see you next year, WEFSNL!

WEF12-1When the Good Year blimp appeared over the International Arena, all who tilted their faces up to the sky knew that this was not going to be an ordinary night of show jumping.

WEF12-2The Good Year Blimp broadcast amazing live ariel video throughout the class. Well played WEF, well played.

WEF12-3The weather was a far cry from last year’s downpour that canceled the 2014 edition of the finale grand prix. Thank goodness for clear skies this year!

WEF12-5.5It was standing room only, all the way around throughout the grand prix.

WEF12-5.55NBC Sports came to play. The grand prix will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, March 29th from 12:30 – 1:30pm.

WEF12-4Forty of the winter circuit’s top horse and rider pairs competed in last night’s class, including Lauren Hough and Oh La La

WEF12-5The look of ‘$*$^&#@!’ Jessica Springsteen checks her score after a four fault round. 

WEF12-6Kent Farrington makes his way out the gate after a round that failed to earn him a jumpoff spot.

WEF12-9Black on black on black: Beezie Madden and Cortes C warm up for their round

WEF12-10And into the light they go – Ben Maher and Diva approach the ingate.

RolexGP-1Georgina Bloomberg and Lilli were first clear and first to go in the jumpoff. A rail relegated them to third place

WEF12-12Now that’s focus! Bluman was wide-eyed as he and Concreto Sancha La Silla fly to the next fence in the jumpoff

WEF12-13Ward was NOT going to let Bluman steal this win from him. He took down an early rail in the jumpoff, and then turned on the speed aboard Double H Farm’s HH Carlos Z to outrun Bluman’s time.

RolexGP-2Behind the scenes just after his successful jumpoff, Ward shakes hands with HH Carlos Z’s owner, Hunter Harrison

RolexGP-3Bluman took a call to share the news of his result before hopping back on his horse for the award ceremony

WEF12-14Is that a smile we see? Ward and Carlos Z stand for awards and accolades.

WEF12-16Fans were especially eager to get up close with their idol. The crowd rushed into the arena before the victory gallop, and had to be shooed to the sidelines so that the riders could pass!

WEF12-17Bluman and Sancha La Silla do that victory gallop thing.

WEF12-18Ward circled back around and took a moment to greet his fans. Many nights were made. A class act!

RolexGPPC-1 copyThis is what the limelight looks like! The top three posed for the equestrian media corps