Fifty six horse and rider combinations – each with their sights set on early qualification for Sunday’s pinnacle Rolex Grand Prix class – contested the 2022 edition of CHIO Aachen’s Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe, a 1.60m competition over two rounds, which got underway in beautiful North Rhine-Westphalia evening sunshine and culminated under the Hauptstadion’s dazzling floodlights.
The Frank Rothenberger-designed course, which consisted of 14 obstacles in the first round and eight in the second, attracted 12 of the world’s top 20 ranked riders, including current number one, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs, and Britain’s Harry Charles, who leads the U25 rankings.
With just the top 14 riders after round one progressing to round two, a faultless performance and a quick time were crucial. Rolex Testimonee, 2021’s winner of the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, and current Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, Germany’s Daniel “Double D” Deusser was on blistering form with his 11-year-old stallion, Bingo Ste Hermelle, with the pair eventually topping the leader board after the first round. Other riders to note, who advanced to round two included the talented 26-year-old American, Spencer Smith, promising U25 French rider, Megane Moissonnier, and on-form Irishman, Conor Swail.
Despite double clears from Conor Swail and fellow countryman Darragh Kenny, Megane Moissonnier, former Major winner, Austria’s Max Kühner and Mexico’s Nicolas Pizarro, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and his superstar gelding Conner Jei appeared to be on another level, crossing the line in 41.48 seconds. However, USA’s McLain Ward and his 13-year-old gelding Contagious were determined to upset Team Fuchs’ celebrations, pipping him to top spot by just seven hundredths of a second, which is where the pair remained after last to go Daniel Deusser put a pole down.
Thrilled with his partner, Ward commented: “He [Contagious] has a lot of quirks and he’s a little bit afraid of everything, and quite sharp in the schooling area with the other horses, so we have to manage that a little bit. But when he goes into the ring, he builds himself up, he believes in me, I think, and he throws his heart over first. He’s done some remarkable things, not things I thought he’d do in the beginning. He’s a smart horse and he believes in what we’re doing.
Ahead of Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, Ward said: “I kind of always say that Aachen is like the girl I can never get! I’ve been lucky enough to compete in some major Grands Prix all over the world, but I can’t get this one. I’ve been close and I’ve had the last one down in the jump-off, and it’s the one I’ve dreamed of since I was a small child. I try not to think about it, we try to do our best every day, and I’ll try to be in the hunt.”