On Sunday morning anticipation was palpable in the air of the Aachen Soers Showground, as over 40,000 eager spectators prepared for the World Equestrian Festival’s pinnacle class, the Rolex Grand Prix. To add to the excitement of the day, America’s McLain Ward was hoping to achieve what has only been done once before in history, win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, following his victories at CHI Geneva in December last year and The Dutch Masters in March.
Forty of the world’s best horse-and-rider combinations, who had qualified for the Rolex Grand Prix over the proceeding days, would tackle the Frank Rothenberger-designed course with the hope of adding their names to the exclusive and illustrious list of riders who have been crowned victors of the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, a venue which is often described as the Wimbledon of the equestrian world.
Held over two rounds, with a jump-off if riders are tied on penalties, the Rolex Grand Prix is a true test of endurance, scope, and talent that requires the highest level of harmony and trust between the horse and rider.
With 18 places on offer for the second round, pressure was on the riders to produce a clear or a fast four-faults to proceed. The first rider into the arena, France’s Olivier Perreau, set the standard for the rest to follow by producing a foot-perfect clear round. He was joined by an additional 11 riders who produced faultless rounds, including Rolex Testimonees Rodrigo Pessoa, Steve Guerdat, and Daniel Deusser, as well as the winner of the 2022 edition of the Rolex Grand Prix, Gerrit Nieberg.
You could have heard a pin drop when current live contender McLain Ward entered the arena with his trusted partner, HH Azur, but there was disappointment when the American rider retired early on in the course following two fences down, therefore ending hopes of a new Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping winner.
Starting in reverse order based on the results in the first round, it was seventh to go, Mexico’s Eugenio Garza Perez, who jumped the first double clear of the class aboard the classy grey, Contago. Problems came throughout the course, but the eight-time Major winner, Rodrigo Pessoa, showed all of his class and ensured there would be a jump-off. Three additional combinations, all of whom were flying the flag for Germany, added to the list of riders who would jump-off for one of the most prestigious prizes in show jumping. Meanwhile, heartbreak came for Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts who came home with just a single time fault.
In total, five combinations proceeded to the jump-off, including four past winners of the Rolex Grand Prix. To a defending cheer from the home crowd, Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt, third to go, ensured that there would be a German winner as the fastest of the three so far to complete with four-faults. Penultimate to go, 2021 winner Daniel Deusser, knew what it takes to win and produced the first clear round of the challenging and technical jump-off. Therefore, only his compatriot and teammate Marcus Ehning, could take away his title. The 2018 winner did just that when after a typically smooth and efficient round, the 49-year-old came home 0.61 seconds faster than Deusser, becoming the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender ahead of the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in September.
Speaking of his win, a delighted Ehning stated, ‘It is absolutely amazing, my horse is a superstar and I really believe in him. I was the last to go in the jump-off, and he was incredible. I couldn’t really watch the horses before me, but I know he is such a fast horse – I didn’t want to take too many risks and in the end, it all worked out!”
The German team Olympic champion from 2000 continued: “The crowd were really behind me; I could feel their energy and I wanted to give them something back. So long as I rode well, I thought my horse could do it – I was slightly lucky in the second round, but without luck, you can’t win. Today was my day.”
On becoming the new live contender, he stated, “First of all, I will enjoy this moment, and I will then think towards Spruce Meadows in a couple of days. Stargold is incredible, not many people believed in him, but last year at the FEI World Championships he showed how class he is. He is a very clever horse, and I am so proud of him and very thankful to his owners.”