It took three demanding rounds to decide the winner of the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen, Germany, on Sunday, July 8, and it was Michael Whitaker who emerged victorious on GIG Amai (Nonstop—Belda VH Wolfke, Bacara).
Great Britain’s Whitaker battled it out against Thomas Voss on the Holsteiner stallion Carinjo 9 (Cascavelle—Exquisite, Landgraf I) and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on the lovely 9-year-old mare Bella Donna (Baldini II—Orlis I, Calido I), but the two German riders couldn’t match Whitaker today. He was simply in a class of his own. Voss had to settle for second, and Michaels-Beerbaum for third.
“I feel very, very happy about the win,” said Whitaker, who rode his first grand prix here in 1984.
The big question after today’s win is whether or not the British selectors will reconsider their Olympic selection as Whitaker wasn’t included on the team. “They should do,” he said with a laugh. “But I don’t know if that’s a possibility. You’re talking to the wrong guy!”
Tough tracks were no surprise for the competitors in the prestigious grand prix, and today was no exception. In the first round, Frank Rothenberger built a 13-fence course, which included a huge oxer-oxer combination at 5AB, an open water on a tricky line at fence 8 and a triple combination at 12ABC as the penultimate challenge. Many riders fell victim to the line that included a vertical leading to 5AB, which again was followed by a new distance to a vertical at the sixth fence. The final line also caused headache for many; it opened with a huge oxer out of a short turn at fence 11, then came the triple combination with a vertical-vertical-oxer before there was a new distance to the last oxer at fence 13.
“I think it was one of the most difficult courses that has been built in Aachen. But in the end we had seven clear rounds, and that was a perfect result. It was a difficult course but still fair,” said Michaels-Beerbaum said.
It took a great horse and a great rider to clear the track in the first round. Many struggled, and no less than six of the 39 riders retired after encountering problems somewhere along the way.
The first clear of the day came after five riders, and it was delivered by home rider Voss and Carinjo 9 to wild cheers from the enthusiastic home crowds. It was a pure display on how to do it, and Carinjo 9 jumped fantastic. The next clear came from Michaels-Beerbaum and Bella Donna 66, and then it was Ukrainian rider Katharina Offel’s turn to succeed on the powerful stallion Vivant (Fuego du Prelet—Scalini van de Heffinck, Landino), who she also will compete at the Olympic Games.
Whitaker and GIG Amai was the next to leave all the fences intact, and the 12-year-old gelding looked fabulous and displayed real strength and cleverness around the track. Ludger Beerbaum also delivered a popular clear on Chiara 22 (Contender—Larissa, Coronado), and U.S. rider Laura Kraut jumped a fabulous round on the bouncy Cedric who made light work of the demanding course. The last clear came from one of the most amazing combinations in the world at the moment: Great Britain’s Nick Skelton and Carlo 273 (Contender—Gunda 4, Cascavelle). It’s a joy to watch Carlo jump; his ears are pricked, and he’s such a happy athlete.
Eleven of the 4- or 5-faulters moved on to the second round together with the seven clear riders. The course in the second round was less challenging, and nine riders produced clears this time around. Voss kept up his good work from Round 1 and left all the fences in one piece yet again—although there was some luck involved when Carinjo touched the penultimate oxer.
Whitaker put up yet another class act in Round 2 around the 12-fence track. Michaels-Beerbaum made it exciting for the crowds on one of the last lines when she came a little close to one of the big oxers, but Bella Donna put her power to use and was clear again. Unfortunately, Skelton and Carlo didn’t make it to the jump-off as the lovely grea gelding had the first oxer down. The last three riders with clears from the first round also had fences down. Offel saw the B-element in the combination fall to the ground, as did Kraut, while Beerbaum had two fences down.
Voss opened the jump-off. He didn’t go flat out, nor did he take too many risks around the shortened eight-fence track, but his clear round was more than good enough to put pressure on the remaining two riders.
Whitaker set of determinedly. After almost 30 years of trying, he must’ve felt it was time to take home the win. The British rider made full use of GIG Amai’s big gallop, and held a higher pace than Voss from start to finish—as well as getting two great turns to the fourth oxer and the last fence. The tactics paid off, and heshaved off almost 5 seconds on Voss’ time.
Last to go was Michaels-Beerbaum, but a pole fell on the big oxer that was the fourth fence. She wasn’t at all disappointed though. “Bella Donna did great,” she said. “She is only 9 years old and jumped two clear rounds here, so I couldn’t be happier with her.”
Rumors have it that Whitaker climbed up and wrote his name on the winners’ wall in Aachen earlier this week. After his win, he denied the stunt with a big smile on his face and said, “Anyway, it’s true now!”