Thank you Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping for this great read.
In the history of equestrian sport, there are riders whose names and achievements will be immortalized in history, and today at the CHI Geneva, the last Rolex Grand Slam of Show Major of the calendar year, that is what all 40 athletes were hoping to achieve by winning the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix.
Once again, skilled course designer, Gérard Lachat, had set a true challenge of bravery, precision and scope for the riders with a 14-combination first round test, which would then be followed by an eight-effort jump-off, should two or more partnerships navigate the opening round without a fault.
Following his win in the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, live contender and third into the ring Martin Fuchs, hoped to continue his quest for sport’s ultimate prize, however there was heartbreak for the Swiss rider as the penultimate fence fell.
Problems came throughout the course with the time proving particularly tight. In total four riders produced a faultless jumping round but picked up unfortunate time-faults. Furthermore, class favourites in the early portion of the competition, such as individual Olympic Champion Ben Maher, and World No. 8, Simon Delestre were able unable to master the tricky course.
It was fifteenth to go, the young German, Richard Vogel, who was part of the Young Riders Academy supported by Rolex, who produced the first clear inside the time. The packed Palexpo then came alive just three horses later as Steve Guerdat continued his fabulous form with Dynamix de Belheme, and ensured that there would be a jump-off. Rolex Testimonee Kent Farrington, was one of the ill-fated riders to finish on just four faults, as was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam who was third in this class last year.
As the class went on, riders began to understand the nuisances of the course with clears coming from a number of riders including Belgium’s Wilm VermeIr, Christian Kukuk, winner of the 2023 FEI Nations Cup™ Final, and team silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Jessica Springsteen. However, a real shock came as the World No.1 Henrik von Eckermann riding the supremely talented King Edward accrued eight faults.
In total seven horse and rider combinations returned for the jump-off, with riders entering the main area in the same order as the first round. Vogel and the huge striding United Touch S were first to go and wowed the crowd, setting the pace with a clear in the time of 37.14 seconds. Swiss hopes for a home win were dashed as Guerdat, who was looking fast, got too close to the second-to-last fence which ultimately fell. Christian Kukuk produced a double clear but was off the pace of Vogel, crossing the finish nearly five seconds slower. Mark McAuley was another to jump clear, but could not match the speed set. The only rider left that could stop Vogel from winning was Julien Epaillard, who is often referred to as the fastest rider in the sport, however, the second fence fell meaning that Richard Vogel claimed his first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major and closed out the 2023 Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping season in style.
Vogel said on becoming the new live contender: “I feel incredible – to win here at the CHI Geneva and become live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam is a dream come true. The atmosphere was amazing, and my horse was just perfect. He has such a big stride, and so especially in the first round some of the lines were very hard for him, but he put in all the effort for me. He gave me everything and jumped his heart out. I have never been to The Dutch Masters, but I am very excited to be there in March – we will make a plan for the next few months and try to win!” The German rider continued: “I am very close with McLain Ward, and I watched the whole jump-off from last year last night – I knew that to win here you would have to be fast, and so even though I was first to go, I decided to really push for it.”
Photo credit: RGS Tiffany Van Halle