And the winner is…
A first Major victory for Sameh El Dahan, winner of the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex
After some light mid-morning rain, the Calgary skies cleared and 38 of the world’s most talented horse and rider partnerships accepted Venezuelan course designer, Leopoldo Palacios’s challenge to jump his huge 1.70m course in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex.
Third in the first round’s starting order, Germany’s Andre Thieme and his 10-year-old bay gelding, Aretino 13 produced a faultless display in a time of 88.84s. However, not one of the next 30 riders to follow were able to produce a clear round, which was testament to the immensity of the contest the field was up against. It was Egypt’s Sameh El Dahan who broke the drought, piloting Suma’s Zorro, his 14-year-old mare to the second clear round of the competition. Palacios’s course continued to be ruthless, claiming the scalps of some big-name horse and rider pairings, and just five further clear rounds were recorded.
The second round proved too tough for 10 of the 12 combinations that progressed from round one, and in the end, it was just The Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten and Egypt’s Sameh El Dahan, who produced double clears, and in doing so set-up a nail-biting jump-off. Van der Vleuten was first to go, going clear and setting a quick time of 42.98s. El Dahan confidently entered the tense International Ring and breezed the course, going clear and triumphing over the Dutchman in a time of 42.21s, thereby being crowned the new live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
So Sameh, what does winning a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors mean to you?
“I’m delighted and absolutely over the moon. When I looked up at the big screen, because I wasn’t sure of the time, and I saw first place, it was a very difficult feeling to explain. To be a winner of one of the four prestigious Grands Prix, as part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is something I think every rider in the world dreams of.”
Tell us a little bit about Suma’s Zorro…
“Suma’s Zorro was bought as a foal by Joanne Sloan Allen and Sycamore Stables. When she was brought to the yard she jumped a five-bar gate when she was just six months old, so they knew they had a jumper on their hands. Joanne did an amazing job building her up until she was about seven-years-old, and then I also started riding her. Today Joanne does most of the riding, and I only jump her, so she’s done a great job.”
Behind the stable door with Sameh El Dahan’s main travelling groom, Marketa Churovà
What is Suma’s Zorro’s character like?
She’s a stubborn mare, but she’s also such a sweetheart and a fighter. For sure, she loves Sameh so much and Sameh loves her, and he tells me that she’s very easy to ride and just does everything automatically. She’s just so calm and everything that you could want in a Grand Prix horse.
How long have you been looking after Suma’s Zorro for?
I’ve only been with her for the last three months and we’re based in Northern Ireland, although I haven’t been there yet!
What’s Suma’s Zorro been up to for the last few weeks, and what’s next for her?
Before she came her she was in a field on her own having a big holiday, relaxing and just enjoying her life. So, she came to Spruce Meadows incredibly happy and relaxed, and I can tell she likes it here. We’re going to the World Equestrian Games next and after that I’m not sure, but definitely a rest for the whole team.
Did you ever expect to win one of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors?
No, not in my wildest dreams. I was a little bit scared coming to this show! The win is obviously amazing, but all I really wanted was for my horse to come back safe and sound. This is my first time to Spruce Meadows and I hope it won’t be the last!
Walk the course with Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ course designer, Leopoldo Palacios
Can you tell us a bit about the course you’ve designed for the CP International, presented by Rolex?
The first round will be do-able, and I hope to have about 12 clears, but I don’t care if I have a few more or a few less. The second round will be very heavy, and the last line of the course will be difficult. In the first round I’ll use the double liverpool combination so the riders will be asked lots of questions, and Rolex’s fences will of course be involved. For the moment that is all I can say.
We talked earlier about Rolex partnering with quality shows over quantity; do you feel honoured to be part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?
I feel very proud to be working and building for the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ and the Rolex Grand Slam. The various championships around the world are of course important, but the Rolex Grand Slam is the highlight of the sport today. Many sports have Grand Slams, such as tennis, which has Roland Garros, US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon; in my mind the CHIO Aachen and the CSIO Spruce Meadows are the Roland Garros and Wimbledon of the show jumping world. And Rolex partners these Majors, along with CHI Geneva and The Dutch Masters – the cream of this sport. Rolex is something different; its product is exclusive and it’s the number one watch brand, and it needs to be with the number one shows, and this is what they’re doing.
You’ve been designing courses at Spruce Meadows for 25 years; how did you start your career?
I worked in construction before I was designing show jumping courses. I was an amateur rider competing in big classes and part of the Venezuelan team, which was made up of a bunch of amateurs competing at home and internationally. I started course designing by accident and at the beginning I was the one paying to do it! But when they started paying me I couldn’t believe it! So, to get paid for doing something I absolutely loved was just perfect. I’m 71-years-old now and I love this sport, which I want to be involved in until I die. I’m not sure what I’ll do after course designing, maybe write a book about the sport, or some teaching, which is something I’m passionate about.
For you, what makes Spruce Meadows such a special place, and what are your earliest memories?
For me, Spruce Meadows is not just about one person, it’s always been a real team effort. We’ve worked together for many years – it’s always been the same faces and we never really change. Without the course designing team that I’ve got here I wouldn’t have had the same success. I remember when I first arrived here over 20 years ago, I was building the Queen’s Cup and I looked up into the International Ring stands and I saw the huge number of spectators, which made me scared and want to run home. But the Spruce Meadows community made me feel so welcome so quickly that I wasn’t scared for long, and I’m still here 25 years later to tell the story.