Rolex Grand Prix 2017 – a dream comes true for Gregory Wathelet

To be eternalised on the winners’ board next…

To be eternalised on the winners’ board next to the entrance of the Main Stadium at the Soers – this dream came true today for Gregory 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. Four riders had reached the jump-off. The moment to celebrate had already come for the Course Designer, Frank Rothenberger, even before the most important jumping class of the weekend had come to an end. “I was just happy that there was a jump-off at all, not like last year,” commented the experienced course builder. Namely, last year Philipp Weishaupt was the only rider, who didn’t pick up any obstacle faults in both regular rounds, so he won without having to ride against the clock in a jump-off. This year it was different. Rothenberger wanted to have three or four riders in the jump-off and everything went exactly as planned, there were four: Marc Houtzager (NED) with Sterrehof‘s Calimero, Luciana Diniz (POR) with Fit For Fun, Gregory Wathelet (BEL) with Coree and Laura Kraut (USA) with Zeremonie.

Marc Houtzager and the just ten-year-old KWPN gelding Calimero by Quidam de Revel entered the ring first in the jump-off. Their round was a little reminiscent of a young horses jumping class. 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 in a time that could definitely be beaten.

Luciana 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 centre 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!

Gregory Wathelet knew it is all or nothing. As he said: “It doesn’t suffice to give 100 percent to win here in Aachen. One has to give 500 percent!” 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 eleven-year-old Westphalian Coree by Cornet Obolensky have been a team since 2014. They had already jumped clear in “two or three” Grand Prix. But they hadn’t managed to reach the winning round until today. But 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.” 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: Laura 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. Finally! In 2015 he celebrated his biggest individual achievement, namely silver at the European Championships here at the Soers. And now he is the next contender for the Rolex Grand Slam. Whereby, the likeable Belgian rider, said modestly: “First of all I will enjoy this victory! And this evening I will spend some time with my team. For me it is a dream come true that I will see my name on the winners’ board. But the back up of a whole team made this all possible as well as my fantastic horse, of course.”

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 six or seven. At the time she belonged to the Haras de Hus, whom I rode other horses for. The plan was for me to start riding her as an eight-year-old.” That is what we did. However, it was always clear that the mare was to be sold one day. Wathelet recognised 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.

Even if Gregory Wathelet intends to enjoy this victory first, for him the Rolex journey will now continue. The next stop is Spruce Meadows. The next Rolex Major will be staged on September 10th –Wathelet’s 37th birthday. A 500,000 Euro bonus would make a wonderful gift!

Flash Quotes

SAP Prize goes to the USA

Two veterans secured themselves the victory in the…

Two veterans secured themselves the victory in the SAP Prize earlier today: the two-time team Olympic gold-medallist McLain Ward and HH Carlos Z.

The reigning World Cup winner, Ward and his 15-year-old Zangersheide-bred gelding, HH Carlos & by Chellano Z, crossed the finish line in a time of 60.21 seconds and no other pair were able to match it. Even if Felix Hassmann and the 12-year-old Brazilian-bred grey horse SL Brazonado by SL Baluarte did their very best. The clock stopped at 60.80. Third place went to the rider from Chile, Samuel Parot, with a further product of the Zangersheide Stud Book: Atlantis by Andiamo (61.60 seconds).

The winner commented after his ride: “I was the eighth to go in this competition. But it wasn’t particularly a disadvantage for me to be to be one of the first riders, because Carlos is such an experienced and fast horse that I didn’t have to watch the others. He is 15 years old, but he is in great shape. This year I won six world ranking classes in Calgary with him as well as the Grand Prix of Falsterbo. I will also be riding him at the CSIO Dublin next week. I am happy to have won this competition and I hope my luck continues.”

Boyd Exell wins the Prize of the Talbot Family, Holland’s Nations’ Cup victory and the Belgian shootings star

Team Oranje was unbeatable again in the Nations’…

Team Oranje was unbeatable again in the Nations’ Cup of the four-in-hand drivers. Boyd Exell drove to victory in the Prize of the Talbot Family for the eighth time. And the Prize of the Heitkamp & Thumann Group went to Exell’s protégé, who could be decisive for the future of the driving sport.

The Dutch team celebrated a special anniversary at the CHIO Aachen this year: They namely won the Nations’ Cup of the four-in-hand drivers for the tenth time in succession. Whereby their Chef d’Equipe, Harry de Ruyter, clearly pointed out that he was not absolutely satisfied with the performance of his team – Theo Timmermann, Koos de Ronde and Ijsbrand Chardon. Although the three of them won the competition with a clear lead on a score of 336.53 minus points, ahead of Belgium (352.49 minus points) and the Germans (357.62). “Yes, he is very strict,” sighed Ijsbrand Chardon, who had significantly contributed towards the success of Team Oranje after coming third in the Prize of the Talbot Family.

Second place went to a young Belgian trio comprising of Edouard Simonet (27), Dries Degrieck (22) and Glenn Geerts (28). In the Press Conference, the Dutch were asked how they intend to stop the rise of the Belgians, but they obviously didn’t have a clear answer. Instead Chardon’s comment was, “My compliments to the Belgians! It is good for our sport when young people start coming through!”

Third place went to the Germans, which considering their extremely mediocre start in the dressage was a good result, however they did make up good ground in the XXX Pallen Marathon and fought their way back into second place. Only to fall back into third place after the cone driving competition, the Preis of the Heitkamp & Thumann Group. “Too many faults,” that was the sober summary of the team driver, Georg von Stein. His fellow team members were Christoph Sandmann and the European Champion, Michael Brauchle. Things particularly didn’t run smoothly for the latter, he ranked 20th in the competition. After his victory in the Marathon yesterday, Christoph Sandmann, lay in fifth place and after the cone driving ultimately finished sixth. Georg von Stein fell back from seventh into eighth place.


Prize of the Talbot Family – Exell again and again

Even if the Australian, Boyd Exell, withdrew from the winning round in the Prize of the Heitkamp & Thumann Goup, prior to that he had secured his eighth victory in the Prize of the Talbot Family, i.e. the combined classification of the four-in-hand drivers. With a score of 152.75 minus points, he beat his protégé, the Belgian driver, Edouard Simonet (164.41), and his eternal rival from the Netherlands, Ijsbrand Chardon (168.48). He was followed in fourth and fifth place by his team colleagues, Koos de Ronde and Theo Timmermann. Then came Christoph Sandmann as the best German driver.

Questioned as to why he didn’t drive in the winning round, Boyd Exell replied, “The horses had done a good job. The week was long and strenuous.” He is simply a horseman. Furthermore, it meant he could watch his pupil, Edouard Simonet, triumph with a wonderful round in the Prize of the Heitkamp & Thumann Group. In 2010, Simonet completed his degree in Agriculture in France and wanted “to do more than just drive on Saturdays and Sundays”. So he went to work for Boyd Exell, it was possible to observe the fruits of this cooperation today. Simonet’s mentor raved: “You don’t have to tell him anything. He takes everything in with his eyes!”

Today, Edouard Simonet put this all into practice and beat his fellow countryman Glenn Geerts and the Czech driver, Jiri Nescavil. Simonet took 85.42 seconds to reach the finish line. His team colleague was not much slower: 85.92 seconds. And only five hundredths of a second separated him and Jiri Nescavil. The driver from Schleswig-Holstein, Mareike Harm, came fourth.

The Dressage Queen, Isabell Werth, enchanting in the Deutsche Bank Prize

It is always said that dressage is complicated….

It is always said that dressage is complicated. When Isabell Werth won the Deutsche Bank Prize at the Aachen Soers for the eleventh time today, she made the fascination of dressage tangible with her Oldenburg-bred mare, Weihegold.

You could hear a pin drop when Isabell Werth and Weihegold entered the Deutsche Bank Stadium. Then, the sound of cheerful Italian pop melodies that accompany the freestyle routine of the two World Cup winners began and Weihegold started to dance. Dressage can be so simple: From the passage into the piaffe and back out again, back in, back out, totally in rhythm, one step like the next, totally relaxed. There is currently no other horse in the world that can match the quality of the Oldenburg-bred Don Schufro daughter in these movements. As Dr. Evi Eisenhardt, Chief Judge at C, explained: “My colleagues and I wished we could have awarded 11s and 12s today.” Among others, that is namely what they would have awarded for Weihegold and Werth’s transitions. The mare didn’t make a single mistake throughout the entire freestyle. The result: 89.675. After the final salute, the silence was broken. The crowd exploded and gave the six-time Olympic gold-medallist standing ovations. Werth confirmed after her ride: “I had a super feeling today. She was by me from the first to the last moment, we were in perfect harmony. I wanted to carry on where we left off at Omaha today (where she won the World Cup Final in the spring with the same freestyle routine, editor’s note) and I think we succeeded in doing so.”


Cosmo, the Flying Dutchman

Here, the judges also wished they could have awarded some even higher marks, namely when Sönke Rothenberger and his KWPN gelding, Cosmo, flew through the dressage arena in extended trot. The just 10-year-old Van Gogh son showed his full potential today, which comprises of much more than just his extended trot. Sönke Rothenberger: “I am delighted! Today, Cosmo demonstrated the extent of his potential for piaffe and passage!” And Sönke’s mother, Gonnelien, who among others won Olympic silver with the Dutch dressage team in 1996, confirmed this: “I think Cosmo demonstrated where he is headed, today.” Indeed the career of the 22-year-old and his 10-year-old gelding have already made a vertical take-off: From the Young Riders camp, to the first Grand Prix starts, through to the first team appearance at the CHIO 2016 and from their straight on to claiming team gold at the Olympic Games in Rio. Last year, the pair weren’t able to compete in the freestyle because they were ‘only’ the fourth best German pair. And now they delivered a score of 85.750 percent and came second in the Deutsche Bank Prize in 2017. Ahead of the rider, who finished fourth at the Olympic Games last year. One could say it has been a “cosmic” rise, whereby there is no end in sight.


Please come back next year!

Third place went to the challenger from overseas, Laura Graves with Verdades. The pair’s career is just as steep as Sönke Rothenberger and Cosmo’s. They competed at the Soers for the first time in 2014. Nobody knew them. Afterwards the former hairdresser, who gave up her job for her horse and her dream of riding on the international dressage circuit, was the talk of the town. And now, three years later she travelled to Aachen with a clear goal: To beat Isabell Werth! Yesterday she succeeded in doing so in the Grand Prix Spécial, the MEGGLE Prize. But today, this was not to be. The 15-year-old KWPN gelding by Florett As was very strong at the beginning, but then the mistakes started creeping in in the canter tour, which pushed the final score down to 82.550. Laura Graves wasn’t able to hide her disappointment, which was understandable! “I just hope that I will be invited back,” she joked during the Press Conference.

Flash Quotes

The Iberian peninsula triumphs in the LUMILEDS Prize

Despite the pouring rain, it was of all…

Despite the pouring rain, it was of all people the Southern Europeans who triumphed in the LUMILEDS Prize, the Grand Prix Freestyle of the I-Tour this evening. First and foremost, the bronze-medallist from the 2015 European Championships, Beatriz Ferrer-Salat.

It was quite a surprise when Beatriz Ferrer-Salat and the Westphalian-bred De Niro son, Delgado, claimed the bronze medal in the Freestyle at the European Championships here in Aachen in 2015. Today, the pair were the absolute favourites and they certainly did justice to this role. The music for her freestyle choreography was composed especially to show off the advantages of her chestnut gelding in the best light: His amazing trot tour and exceptional submissiveness. The Spanish rider who lives near to Barcelona presented all of her strengths this evening in spite of the pouring rain and was awarded a score of 78.275.

Second place went to a rider from her neighbouring country, Portugal’s Maria Caetano with the beautiful Lusitano Coroado (75.275). Jan-Dirk Gießelmann from Germany ranked third. His Real Dancer danced to a score of 75.125 to the melodies of Tom Jones.

The Austrian rider Belinda Weinbauer finished fourth with Söhnlein Brilliant MJ (74.975). During the performance of this pair, one got the impression that somebody had turned the tap on in the heavens above. It rained cats and dogs. But as Charlott-Maria Schürmann (fifth place) said: “We are pretty weatherproof. Burlington and I prefer the rain to humid, dry weather!” She had hoped her score would be a little higher than the 73.125 percent she was awarded. “But then we are here in Aachen and not on some field in Gelsenkirchen!”

A moist, but merry Lavazza race rocks the Soers!

It is a good job that equestrian athletes…

It is a good job that equestrian athletes aren’t football players, wimps, or pansies! Namely, this evening the Lavazza Prize turned into a water fight. And it was fantastic fun!

Six teams each comprising of an eventer, two show-jumping colleagues and a master at the long reins with a team of four horses in front of the carriage defied the weather conditions that Petrus confronted them with, caused more of a stir at the Soers than any storm possibly could. Among others, “Atemlos” by Helene Fischer was the fitting musical accompaniment. Whilst the riders and drivers demonstrated on the grass arena (which is not quite as immaculately green as before) that equestrian athletes are not just tougher than footballers, but at least as fit, the crowd rocked the stands!

The very international teams had top line-ups. In the end, Team 1 carried off the victory. Great Britain’s Alexander Bragg flew the flag for the eventers with Redpath Ransom. The rider from Chile, Samuel Parrot with Romance du Criolp and Italy’s Juan Carlos Garcia with Cocodrillo took over the part of the show-jumpers and the Hungarian driver, Jozsef Dobrovitz sped around the arena with his team of four horses: Baccara, Conversano XXVII-41, Incitato Szilaj and Indian. Their overall score was 197.5 seconds, which put Team 5 comprising of Ingrid Klimke/Parmenides, Mario Stevens/El Bandiata, Emanuele Gaudiano/Jasper and Georg von Stein into second place (202.47). Third place went to Team 3 with Michael Jung/Star Connection, Maurice Tebbel/Camilla PJ, Mathis Schwentker/Landprincess and Ijsbrand Chardon behind the carriage (206.07).

WOTAX Prize goes to Anna Kasprzak

The Danish dressage rider, Anna Kasprzak and her…

The Danish dressage rider, Anna Kasprzak and her big hope for the future, Quarton, dominated the Small Tour at the CHIO Aachen 2017. As in the Prix St. Georges, they also took the victory in the Intermédiaire I, the WOTAX Prize.

Anna Kasprzak’s goal with Quarton is clear: “It is not going to stop here!” In other words: The 8-year-old Quaterback son is to become Kasprzak’s future Grand Prix horse. The Danish rider is convinced that he is made of the right material. “We have to get to know each other better at shows and there are a few small details we have to work on. But overall I already had a very good feeling today, everything was so easy and matter of course.” The judges were impressed too and awarded the pair a score of exactly 74 percent.

The dark chestnut is now going to have a well-earned break. Then, over the winter the project “Grand Prix” will gradually get underway. “Our aim is to compete in the first classes at that level next year, but first of all at small, national shows,” the Olympic rider noted. And then perhaps already at the CHIO Aachen in 2019.

Helen Langehanenberg’s plan with the Hanoverian-bred Belissimo M daughter, Brisbane, is very similar. The team World Champion has been riding the elegant chestnut mare for around a year. “She has very strong nerves and a very calm temperament,” is how Langehanenberg described the advantages of her horse. She is already qualified for the Final of the Nuremberg Burg Cup, which will take place in December. And after that Brisbane is also to start competing at the higher level, if everything goes to plan. The pair improved their performances this season from show to show and they crowned their first appearance at the CHIO Aachen today with a score of 73.763 – almost three percent more than in the Prix St. Georges. And that in the pair’s first ever Intermédiaire I class.

The Spanish rider Juan Matute Guimon came third with Dhannie Ymas (73.395). Beforehand, the just 19-year-old rider came second in the Grand Prix Freestyle of the U25 Tour with his second horse, Don Diego Ymas. He attracted the public’s attention for the time in 2015 when he surprisingly won the Junior European Freestyle Championship with Dhannie. Today, he beat the team Olympic gold-medallist, Kristina Bröring-Sprehe, with her aspirant for the future, Destiny OLD by Desperados (72.158).

Lorenzo de Lucas and Jeunesse van‘t Paradijs win the Final of the Sparkassen-Youngsters-Cup

The name of the winner in the Sparkassen-Youngsters-Cup…

The name of the winner in the Sparkassen-Youngsters-Cup is very fitting “the Youth from Paradise”. Her rider prophesies a big future for her.

Before the Final in the Sparkassen-Youngsters-Cup had been decided, one had already tipped that no one would be able to match the time set by Lorenzo de Lucas and Jeunesse van‘t Paradijs – 39.46 seconds. And that was indeed the case, which was no real surprise for the rider from Italy: “She is a fantastic mare. I have been riding her now for almost a year. My first big show was the World Championship of the 7-year-olds, where we qualified for the final and in the final, I had one fence down. But I already knew then that she is exceptional. She has a lot of scope and is extremely careful.

The 8-year-old BWP mare inherited all of these positive attributes, she namely descends from one international winner after the next. Her sire Emerald is one of the top horses of the Dutch show-jumper, Harrie Smolders. The sire of her dam, Heartbreaker, was not only highly successful on the sporting circuit, but has also reached a legendary status among the stud stallions. The same applies for her great-grandfather, Nabab de Reve, to name but a few of her famous ancestors. With such a talent under the saddle, Luca’s tactics couldn’t go wrong: “I rode very fast because I knew that with the riders that were following me I had to go as fast as possible.”

After all 14 pairs had reached the jump-off of this important youngsters competition for young jumping horses at the CHIO Aachen 2017, nine of whom also remained clear in the jump-off. Second place went to Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, who jumped clear in 40.26 with the eight-year-old Westphalian-bred gelding, Calle by Carell x Capitalist. She was also full of praise for her horse: “He is phenomenal. It’s a new horse for me, it’s only his fourth show with me. He wasn’t impressed by the arena or the lights. He jumped the course easily and didn’t have any problems with the big water jump. I really think he is ready to move up to jump bigger.”

Scott Brash claimed third place with the also eight-year-old KWPN gelding, Hello Senator. The Carambole x Indoctro son reached the finish line in a time of 41.22 seconds.