Anticipation was palpable in the air of the Palexpo as the CHI Geneva’s passionate and knowledgeable crowd prepared for the 22nd running of the prestigious Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final. The innovative and globally-renowned class, often compared to the Nitto ATP Finals in tennis, saw the world’s top 10 ranked riders compete against each other over two rounds, to be crowned the champion of champions.
It was a truly international field, with the ten riders coming from eight different nations. This stellar list of athletes included last year’s winner of the class and World No.1, Henrik von Eckermann, the current live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, Martin Fuchs, as well as the individual Olympic gold medallist Ben Maher. Prior to the competition, the crowd was treated to the traditional parade of riders, which only added to the excitement and sensational atmosphere of the main arena.
With both rounds counting and faults accumulating, pressure was on riders from the moment that they cantered into the ring. In the opening round, riders went in reverse order of ranking meaning that it was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, a newcomer in the class, who was first to tackle the 1.60m course. Sweetnam produced a foot-perfect round to set the standard for the nine remaining riders. A number of riders struggled to match this, with favourites such as Simon Delestre having eight faults and both Harrie Smolders and Max Kühner accruing twelve faults. Julien Epaillard kept himself in contention with a typically fast round with only one fence falling.
However, the Palexpo then rumbled awake as Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat and Venard de Cerisy produced the second clear of the class – a result that was unfortunately not shared by his fellow Rolex Testimonees, Martin Fuchs and Kent Farrington. Ben Maher was another favourite unable to master the course, whilst last to go in the first round, Henrik von Eckermann showed all of his talent to keep hopes of a back-to-back win alive.
After a course change, riders returned in reverse order of merit from the first half of the competition. Max Kühner, first in, produced a faultless round, as did the four following riders, but faults carried forward from round one kept them out of the top spots. Kent Farrington and Greya, on four faults, were yet another clear, while Julien Epaillard, the only other rider on four faults, and often considered to be the fastest rider in the world, was the first to accrue faults over this shortened course.
All eyes were then on the final three, who entered the arena with zero penalties from the first round. First of the three clears, Guerdat, was lucky over the double combination but came home clear in a time of 48.13 seconds. Henrik von Eckermann was next in, but it wasn’t meant to be for the World Champion, when he got too close to fence 13 and accrued four faults. The only man who could prevent the home favourite from victory was first-timer Sweetnam, but two fences fell, and the Swiss rider claimed the class for the third time.
Speaking on his win, Guerdat stated: “I am very excited – it is unbelievable to win this incredible class for the third time! It is truly extraordinary. I have had so much success at this amazing show – but it keeps surprising me! The crowd was amazing and the atmosphere at the CHI Geneva is exceptional, this moment means so much to me.”
The Swiss rider continued: “Venard was incredible – he has been such a great horse for me and I am so proud of him. This win would not be possible without my team – they really deserve this win as much as me!”