Germany’s Marcus Ehning gave the 40,000 patriotic spectators a reason to celebrate at the Aachen CHIO, as he clinched the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen title aboard his 15-year-old chestnut gelding, Pret A Tout.
Although this is the fourth major grand prix Ehning has won, his Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping journey has only just begun, as he becomes the new live contender.
Five riders qualified for the jump-off. Besides Ehning, whose last victory in the Grand Prix of Aachen was twelve years ago, they included Irish rider Darragh Kenny with Babalou; the Brazilian show-jumper Pedro Veniss with Quabri de L’Isle; the Swiss Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat with Bianca and the pair that came second last year, Luciana Diniz with Fit For Fun.
Kenny’s Oldenburg-bred Balou du Rouet daughter, Babalou, had saved her rider in the double combination in the second round when he misjudged the distance and the mare proved her cattiness and managed to save herself over the fences. But in the jump-off her strength seemed to ebb and she finished with 12 faults.
Veniss and Quabri de L’Isle travelled to the CHIO Aachen in 2017 as the contenders for the Rolex Grand Slam after their victory in the Rolex Major in Geneva in 2016. However, they weren’t able to compete in the Grand Prix because the stallion sustained an injury during the show. Now they were actually in the jump-off and had the chance to take up the challenge of the Grand Slam again. And indeed, they jumped clear in a time of 41.62 seconds. But they left the door open for Ehning and Pret a Tout, who were next in the ring.
The pair were greeted by emphatic, rhythmic applause from the crowd. This might have helped towards the subsequent victory, because as Ehning revealed later, Pret a Tout loves the attention. “When he enters the ring and hears the crowd it gives him additional motivation,” the rider said.
It certainly worked. Ehning and the 15-year-old Selle Français gelding cruised over the jump-off course with ease. The clock stopped at 38.34 seconds, moving them into first place with two riders still to go.
Guerdat, the next in the ring, always rides to win. And his Swedish-bred Balou du Rouet daughter Bianca is a fast horse. However, at the third oxer the mare got a pole between her legs and this took away a bit of her confidence over the remaining obstacles. Two more poles fell.
Then it was Diniz’s turn with Fit For Fun. It is part of the pair’s ritual that they enter the ring at a walk on a long rein. A last moment of quiet and concentration. They had already finished second last year; this time they wanted to take the victory.
“I saw Marcus ride and decided to follow the same plan,” Diniz said. It worked to an extent. Diniz and her small jumping wonder rode clear, but with the clock stopping at 40.96 seconds they weren’t able to match Pret a Tout’s time.
Ehning admitted he was nervous watching Diniz ride. “She is a good rider and has come close to winning here a few times,” he said.
“I thought it was a really good course,” said Ehning of the initial rounds. “I thought there would be about ten clears and, in the end, there were eleven. There wasn’t anywhere specifically that looked too challenging or that my horse couldn’t jump, but my horse has performed amazingly in past years here, and he gave me a confidence that I could really trust him and believe that we could go all the way. He is a very flexible horse and I am very lucky to be riding him.”
Diniz took her loss bravely. “I am very happy about finishing second. And it gives me motivation to keep trying,” she said.
The next event in the Rolex Grand Slam is the CSIO Spruce Meadows Masters in September. “Before this win today I was only focusing on the World Equestrian Games, but obviously now this is a very different situation. I need to speak to my team and my owners to work out a strategy and think about what we do,” Ehning said.
“I am so happy for Marcus! He is incredibly important for the team and was a key member on Thursday,” said German national coach, Otto Becker, referring to the victory in the Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup (the third in a row, each time with Marcus Ehning and Pret a Tout on the team). “He also manages the horses brilliantly!”