Marvellous”, “amazing”, “one of the best venues in the world”….
These are just some of the words of deep appreciation that the three top riders of the Rolex Grand Prix Rome 2023 had for Piazza di Siena and its horse show.
The event has unanimously received compliments from the many champions who have also made this 90th edition great. With this in mind, the ambition is the inclusion of Rome in the list of horse shows in the Rolex Grand Slam.
Germany’s Thieme takes the Rolex Grand Prix title
Andre Thieme became the eleventh German rider to win the historic Grand Prix of Rome, claiming the Rolex title with the brilliant mare DSP Chakaria in a tense 13-way jump-off against the clock at Piazza di Siena.
From a starting field of 50 there were 13 places up for grabs in the second round against the clock, and it was Sweden’s Jens Fredricson and Markan Cosmopolit who claimed runner-up spot at the end of the day ahead of Brazil’s Stephen de Freitas Barcha and Primavera Imperio Egipcio in third place. (Ed. note: The sole Canadian entry, Beth Underhill and Nikka Vd Bisschop, placed 25th; in other weekend classes, Underhill was 15th with Dynastie de Beaufour in a 1.45m class and 10th with Nikka in a 1.55m class.)
At the 2022 fixture a total of 16 horse-and-rider combinations found the key to the first-round track created by top Italian course designer Uliano Vezzani but this time only 11 went into round two on a zero scoreline over his second course, joined by two horse-and-rider partnerships carrying four faults apiece.
Running in reverse order of merit the second time, it was Fredricson who set the early target with his double-clear in 45.19 seconds, and although The Netherlands Jur Vrieling was also foot-perfect again with Long John Silver NOP, their time of 49.56 didn’t challenge for the lead.
Brazil’s de Freitas Barcha kept himself in touch when breaking the beam in 47.46 seconds but then, going sixth from last, Thieme set off with the 13-year-old mare who carried him to European individual gold and team silver two years ago. Taking a super-tight turn on the rollback after fence three he began to look seriously competitive and with a big gallop to the last he reset the target in 42.64 seconds which, at the end of the day, proved too good for the rest.
However there was plenty more excitement to come as after Britain’s Tim Gredley produced the only other double-clear of the day in 48.65 which eventually left him in fourth place with Medoc de Toxandria. Switzerland’s Bryan Balsiger looked set to snatch the lead with Dubai du Bois Pinchet with a great gallop down to the last; however, the mare pulled hard left and ran past the fence to put paid to their chances.
All eyes were then on penultimate competitor Julien Epaillard from France who is arguably the fastest rider in the sport right now. But when Dubai du Cedre hit the third and fourth fences they were out of contention, leaving only American multi-medallist Laura Kraut and Baloutinue.
However, the gelding with which Kraut claimed team silver at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games slipped and dropped his rider on that turn after the third fence for elimination at the end of a dramatic second round, and Thieme was left well clear of the field and on the top step of the Rolex podium.
Thieme was thrilled with his result. “This is my first time in Rome and the first time here at Piazza di Siena and I think I should never come back now because it can’t get any better! My horse already jumped nicely in the Nations Cup (on Friday), it was a beautiful course and this is a beautiful venue ‒ it has been a very, very good day!” he said.
He was also thrilled with his mare Chakaria. “I have said many times that I love this horse as much as my wife, who accepts it! She’s my horse of a lifetime, I know I will never get one like her again, and I’m trying to enjoy every horse show that I have with her. She is such a winner and such a clear-round machine. She has given me and my family and my groom so many special moments all around the world that I know I’m blessed with this horse!”
“She is our partner, and we are not showing much. We are trying to do as little as possible at shows to keep her as long as possible. The dream is one more time the Olympics because the last time (Tokyo 2020) it was my first big tournament and her first big tournament and it was a bit too early for me and for her. But it was great because three weeks later we became European champions! We enjoy every single day with her, she is that special,” he explained.
Runner-up Jens Fredricson pointed out an interesting fact from today’s competition. “Andre is German rider with a German horse, I’m a Swedish rider with a Swedish horse and Stephen is a Brazilian rider with a Brazilian horse here today!” he said.
He told the story of his partnership with Cosmopolit who was bought for the national riding school at Stromsholm in Sweden when he was three years old, but who was too sharp, so he was sold. “And then it turned out that when he was nine or 10 years old that he’s not so bad! He’s 12 now and he’s my horse of a lifetime and I also love him as much as my wife but I have never told her!” he said with a laugh.
Stephen de Freitas Barcha has only just arrived in Italy after leaving Brazil and going through 45 days of quarantine with his horses in Argentina. He has made a spectacular start following his decision to move his wife, three children and their string of horses to base themselves in The Netherlands for the foreseeable future.
“Just a few weeks ago we started in Montefalco and I won a grand prix with her, and then we came straight to Rome which is a dream come true because the atmosphere here is incredible. To finish like this in a grand prix like this is just a beginning for us ‒ it is very exciting!”
Talking about today’s jump-off, Fredricson said, “I walked the course and knew exactly how I wanted to do it. I took some extra time with my turns without losing the rhythm and then got a nice distance to the last one. I think Andre had more strides but with a faster horse….anyway you were two seconds faster than me,” he pointed out, looking at the winner. But he wasn’t getting away with that…”it was three seconds actually!” Thieme replied with a laugh.
Thieme said he didn’t watch anyone else jumping off. “I was only concentrating on me and my horse and my plan,” he pointed out.
“When I heard a few people were slipping after the third fence I was thinking it would be faster if I go really tight and I think it was a good decision ‒ I went full risk but I could trust her and I knew I was quick so I was careful at the vertical (second last) and when I went through the finish and saw I was in the lead I was surprised. But when I came out everybody said that was probably it.
“I don’t want to say I was lucky because I was very afraid of the French (Julien Epaillard) and I felt very bad for Laura Kraut when she slipped in that turn, but it was meant to be for me today!” he concluded.
Complete results here.