The tension in the Palexpo Arena on the last day of the CHI Geneva was justifiably high with Rolex testimonee Scott Brash amongst the starters of the Rolex Grand Prix, entering the competition as the live contender for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
The stakes were especially high for Brash who had already written his name into the history books having completed this extraordinary feat at the Spruce Meadows Masters in 2015 aboard his Olympic gold medal mount Hello Sanctos.
But the win that kicked off this Rolex Grand Slam attempt—the $3 Million CP International Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) in September—came with Ursula XII, a talented mare who had been in Sanctos’ shadow until this year. And it was Ursula that Brash brought to Geneva to pursue the Grand Slam.
Then home favorite Steve Guerdat brought a further dimension of emotion to the event having announced that the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva would be the last competitive appearance for his prize horse, Nino Des Buissonnets.
However, fortune favored Brazilian rider Pedro Veniss and his brilliant stallion Quabri de L’Isle, who produced an astonishingly quick jump-off time to reign victorious as the 2016 Rolex Grand Prix winner.
Pedro Veniss and Quabri de L’Isle topped a jump-off fiield of 16 to take the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva. Photo by Rolex/Kit Houghton
The starting list saw 40 of the sport’s finest riders challenging over a course in which designer Gérard Lachat made full use of the world’s largest indoor equestrian arena, challenging these elite athletes in every corner and at every jumping effort. A large field of 16 combinations conquered the first round of the course faultlessly, taking them through to the jump-off. Swiss national hero Guerdat, Brash and world No. 1 Christian Ahlmann were amongst those to advance through to the second round, heightening the excitement of the competition.
The crowds were kept on the edge of their seats as each combination tackled the shortened course, dramatically cutting corners to produce as fast a time as possible. The eventual Rolex Grand Prix winner, Veniss, was fourth to go and set an exceptionally tough time to beat of just 38.96 seconds.
Despite valiant efforts from all challengers, it seemed no one could cut any more time off Veniss’ impressive round. It was left to the last two riders, Kevin Staut and Brash to challenge one of equestrian sport’s most prized trophies.
Staut produced an outstanding round of elegance and precision, stopping the clock after 40.04 seconds, but this was not enough to knock Veniss from pole position. The crowd hushed as the current Rolex Grand Slam live contender entered the arena and waited with baited breath for the outcome.
Cheering Brash through to the last fence, the clock stopped at a time of 39.41 seconds, four hundredths of a second slower than Veniss and placing the combination into third, respectively. First and third place were separated by just 0.4 of a second, highlighting the importance of accuracy and precision timing at the very top of the sport. Belgian rider Olivier Philippaerts claimed second with H&M Legend Of Love in a time of 39.21 seconds.
Scott Brash and Usula XII came achingly close to a second win in the Rolex Grand Slam series as they placed third in the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva. Photo by Rolex/Kit Houghton
A delighted Veniss spoke of his victory: “I am so happy, it is a dream come true to win the Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva. Quabri jumped fantastically in the first round and so I thought, we can go for it in the jump-off. I really tried like never before and pushed to go fast—Quabri responded perfectly.
“I will work really hard ahead of CHIO Aachen , thinking ahead to the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping but for now, I want to give this victory to my family and all of the people who are behind me.”
After the grand prix, the stands remained full for the emotional retirement ceremony of Swiss superstar Nino des Buissonnets. Guerdat and “Nino” placed 12th in the Rolex Grand Prix, then returned to the ring to bid goodbye to Nino’s fans.
With Guerdat, Nino won individual gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games and placed fourth individually in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Together, they placed second in the 2013 and 2014 FEI World Cup Finals and fifth in the 2014 World Cup Final. Nino, a 15-year-old Selle Francais gelding, also jumped for Switzerland in the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (France) and at the 2013 European Championships (Denmark). He also won the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva twice (2013 and 2015).
“The farewell was so special, it was so intense, powerful, so emotional. It was much more than I expected. The stadium was full, everyone stayed after the Rolex Grand Prix and I am very grateful to all of the public and the show, for that. It will always remain in my heart,” said Guerdat.
Steve Guerdat and Nino Des Buissonnets on their last lap around the CHI Geneva ring. Photo by Rolex/Kit Houghton