Aachen, Germany—July 23
“It is simply a dream come true to see my name on the winners’ board in Aachen! It doesn’t suffice to give 100 percent to win a major. One has to give 500 percent and that is what we did today,” said Gregory Wathelet after winning the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. “My horse was simply incredible.”
To be immortalized on the winners’ board next to the entrance of the Main Stadium at the Soers—this dream came true today for Wathelet when he opened a new chapter in the history of the Rolex Grand Slam after riding to victory in the Rolex Grand Prix of the CHIO Aachen 2017.
Two rounds, one jump-off, one goal: The Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. U.S. rider Laura Kraut came close, but had to settle for second with a rail in the jump-off. McLain Ward and HH Azur pulled a rail in Round 1 but were among the 18 to return for Round 2. They jumped clean the second time, taking seventh place on 4 faults.
Other U.S. riders Lauren Hough and Kent Farrington also had rails in Round 1 but returned for Round 2. They had 4 faults in Round 4 as well, however. Farrington finished in 14th with Voyeur and Hough took 16th with Ohlala. Beezie Madden had 4 faults in Round 1 with Darry Lou but didn’t qualify for Round 2, taking 19th.
Wathelet won in a thrilling jump-off after going clean over two tough rounds in rainy weather at Aachen. He and the mare Coree bestest Luciana Diniz, Marc Houtzager and Laura Kraut in the jump-off to take one of the biggest wins in Wathelet’s career.
Gregory Wathelet has only been riding Coree since 2014. But he knows her much longer than that: “I have been watching the mare since she was 6 or 7. At the time she belonged to the Haras de Hus, whom I rode other horses for,” Wathelet said. “The plan was for me to start riding her as an 8-year-old. That is what we did.” However, it was always clear that the mare was to be sold one day.
Wathelet recognized what a gem she was and found in Judith Gölkel of the Nybor Pferde GmbH & Co. KG a sponsor, who purchased the mare for him. Farsightedness that has paid off for both sides.
Houtzager and the just-10-year-old gelding Calimero by Quidam de Revel entered the ring first in the jump-off. Their round was a little reminiscent of a young horse class, slow and steady. The strategy was obvious—to jump clear. They succeeded. The pair galloped over the course in excellent style, but with the clock stopping at 53.66 seconds in a time that could definitely be beaten.
Diniz and her graceful Hanoverian-bred mare, Fit For Fun by For Pleasure, sauntered into the Soers in walk on a long rein. Jump-off? No, not today. At least that is what the outsiders thought.
In fact there is method in these tactics: “There is power in serenity. It is the moment of peace that gives us strength,” explained Diniz later. Once she had arrived in the center of the Stadium, the Brazilian show jumper, who rides for Portugal, took up the reins. Fit For Fun’s ears pricked forward and she was immediately ready to pick up the signal. And the pair really flew over the obstacles. One had the impression that the small mare had grown wings to master the fences.
In a tight turn to the Mercedes-Benz oxer, the mare slipped, a collective “Oh!” could be heard from the mouths of the 40,000-strong crowd. But Fit For Fun saved herself over the huge obstacle without coming anywhere near the poles and immediately picked up speed again. Clear in 47.40 seconds. A super time!
Wathelet knew it was all or nothing. And he wasn’t the only one to give 500 percent, his mare did too. Both of them wanted to win today. Wathelet and the 11-year-old Westphalian Coree, by Cornet Obolensky, have been a team since 2014. Wathelet is convinced that all doors are open to Coree: “When she goes like she did today, she can jump everything. It is a super feeling. Today she was good to control, the contact was good. She got better from round to round today and became more and more confident,” he said.
In the jump-off Wathelet risked everything, took the turns as tightly as the footing allowed and Coree gave everything. When the two flew over the last obstacle, the Rolex oxer, the clock stopped at 46.60 seconds. The lead! Applause!
However, there was still one rider to go, who could strip Wathelet of the victory: Kraut with the Holstein-bred Cero daughter, Zeremonie. The two of them gave it their very best shot, but they weren’t able to match Wathelet’s time. And then at the last fence a pole fell. So, the victory went to Gregory Wathelet.
“I’m thrilled to have gone double clear in the grand prix of Aachen,” said Kraut. “It’s a dream come true. In the jump-off, she was great. Going fast still isn’t her strong suit, and I was up against some of the fastest riders in the world. I probably didn’t find the best one to the last and she slipped a little. She tried to not have it down, but unfortunately it came down.
“That’s something to improve on as we move forward, but she was the leading show jumper at Aachen and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that. I’ve had her since she was 5, I’ve done all the work on her and brought her to this level, so it’s really rewarding. I’m proud for her to win that,” Kraut continued. Kraut was also crowned the leading rider for the show.
Wathelet’s win marks his first step on the road to the Rolex Grand Slam, so his full focus will now be on Calgary, where at the Spruce Meadows Masters on Sept. 6-10, he will be striving to claim his second major title.
The winners of the last Grand Slam events weren’t able to redeem their chance of claiming a Grand Slam bonus: Scott Brash, who secured himself the top step of the winner’s podium at the Spruce Meadows Masters in 2016, had the opportunity of claiming a 250,000 Euro bonus for two Major victories within one Grand Slam cycle here in Aachen. However, the British rider picked up 4 faults in the first round with the mare Ursula XII and finished the class in ninth place after the second round.
The winner of the CHI Geneva in 2016, Pedro Veniss, could not participate in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. Over the course of the show week, luck was not on his side, so the Brazilian rider didn’t succeed in qualifying for the grand prix. However, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is not over for Veniss yet: In September at the Spruce Meadows Masters, 250,000 Euros will be at stake for him for the second Major victory within a Grand Slam cycle.