McLain Ward and HH Azur, the only American entry in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen (Germany), had to settle for fifth after dropping a late rail in the five-rider jump-off. But Ward’s successes earlier in the week, winning the Turkish Airlines—Prize of Europe on Wednesday and the RWE Prize of North-Rhine Westphalia on Friday with Contagious, earned him the City of Aachen Rider of the Week award to close out a week of world-class competition at CHIO Aachen.
Ward was the first to go in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen jump-off, one of five riders from the field of 40 to jump cleanly in the first two rounds. Today, he placed his bets on his “old friend,” the 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare HH Azur (Thunder VD Zuuthoeve—Sion VD Zuuthoeve, Sir Lui VD Zuuthoeve). The two put in fast round, 40.03 seconds, but had a rail at the last oxer before the finish line.
Then came Daniel Deusser of Germany and Killer Queen VDM, last year’s winners. Deusser set off and stuck to his trusted concept—he didn’t rush, simply relied on the scopey canter of his mare and didn’t risk picking up any jumping faults. His strategy worked. They jumped clear in a time of 41.60 seconds. The crowd exploded. Deusser only pointed one finger in the air; it was too early to celebrate yet, he knew that. Because Scott Brash was the next to go.
Brash, of Great Britain, certainly set the pace with his Hello Jefferson, who jumped with power and seemed to start galloping before he had even landed. The clock stopped at 39.24 seconds.
Nicola Philippaerts of Belgium and Katanga van het Dingeshof tried their hardest; they kept all the rails up but the timers stopped in 39.92 seconds, just behind Brash.
Last to go was Gerrit Nieberg of Germany on Ben 431. The commentator greeted him with the words: “So Gerrit, it is a good day to write history?”
After the first few jumps it seemed like Nieberg had opted for a steady clear to take fourth place. The fifth obstacle in the jump-off was an in-and-out with a bush a few meters in front of it. Nieberg calmly took a route that none of his fellow colleagues had dared take, namely in front of the bush. That saved him a few meters and a few canter strides.
They flowed through the next few fences before changing gear and speeding to the last fence, the Rolex oxer. The crowded stands got louder and louder, but the pair hadn’t reached the finish line yet. Ben flew over the last fence effortlessly, and the clock stopped at 38.63 seconds. The 40,000 spectators went wild, they shouted, whistled, stamped and clapped. Nieberg took off his helmet and greeted his Aachen crowd with a broad smile.
The risks he took reaped a reward. He achieved what his famous father, two-time Olympian Lars Nieberg, didn’t manage to do in spite of all his achievements: He won the Rolex Grand Prix. But even after the awards ceremony, he still couldn’t quite believe it.
“I asked my colleague during the warm-up whether I could do the turn to the double. And he said ‘OK, you can do it.’ So I did it and it was good,” he said, understatedly. “It is still all unreal, everything. I didn’t expect it to happen, it is a dream come true for me today. It was great, an amazing feeling.”
But he saw the fact that he has achieved something his father never managed to do differently, saying: “My father achieved much more.”
And his father was also responsible for bringing the winning horse, Ben, to their stables. The Westphalian-bred gelding was 7 when he joined them four years ago. He was considered to be very difficult, Gerrit’s mother, Gitta, said. But her husband saw potential in the gelding and bought him. Together, the Nieberg family managed to win over the gelding’s trust in order to achieve top performances.
Visit the CHIO Aachen website for full results, schedules and start lists.
For all of the Chronicle’s CHIO Aachen coverage, click here.