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!