Martin Fuchs wins the VDL Groep Prize
The organisers of The Dutch Masters delivered world-class sport on the opening day of the first Rolex Grand Slam Major of the year. The VDL Groep Prize was the highlight of the day with Rolex Grand Slam live contender, Martin Fuchs (SUI), maintaining his top form aboard The Sinner to claim the title. Fellow Rolex Testimonee, Daniel Deusser, set the pace as first to go in the jump-off finishing eventual second with his Rolex Grand Prix horse, Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z.
The course designed by Louis Konickx proved challenging, with only nine horse and rider combinations, representing five nations, reaching the jump-off to battle it out under the bright lights of the Brabanthallen’s main arena. The return of spectators for the first time since 2019 was especially welcomed by the strong contingent of Dutch riders, who received a roaring echo of cheers as they entered the ring, but in the end, it was Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs who dominated the class to start his ‘The Dutch Masters’ quest in spectacular fashion.
Congratulations! What was the course like to ride?
It was a very good course, there were a lot of faults everywhere, but the course designer did a very good job. It was great to perform in front of the crowd here and I am very happy with my round.
Tell us a little bit about The Sinner…
The Sinner has always been very competitive from when I first got him, even when I wasn’t so used to him. Now we’ve had some very nice jump-offs together, so this gives me a lot of confidence entering a big jump-off knowing that my horse is able to do it, knowing what we are able to do it together, so it’s possible to make a plan and that plan went well today.
You are the live contender, and have started your bid to continue your Rolex Grand Slam journey very well. Does this give you extra confidence ahead of the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?
It’s very nice to start The Dutch Masters with a win in the big class. For the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday I will be riding Conner Jei, who is fairly green and new at this level, but I’m very excited and looking forward to it. He hasn’t done too much indoor work recently, but he is a wonderful horse and I am hoping to continue our Rolex Grand Slam journey with a win on Sunday.
Behind the stable door with:
Mariella Offner, Max Kühner's groom
Welcome to The Dutch Masters. How did you and the horses get here?
We drove here, it took us 14-hours in total. Unfortunately, when you are travelling so far you cannot control the traffic.
How do you entertain yourself for that time?
I listen to music and I call my friends, colleagues and other grooms, I seem to be able to keep myself entertained!
Do the horses travel well?
They are amazing travellers. When we go on a long journey, I try and make it as comfortable as possible for them. They each have their own water bucket, as on long journeys they drink a lot. I also try and give them as much space as possible, so they can stretch their heads down. With Elektric Blue P, I travel him loose in a box stall so that he has as much freedom as possible.
Do you and the team feel a bit of extra pressure coming into The Dutch Maters, with Max as defending champion?
I think that I feel more pressure than Max does – he is very relaxed! We have a different horse competing in the Rolex Grand Prix this year [Eic Coriolis Des Isles], so I think he does not feel as much pressure. But I really want to win again and show that we have more than just one amazing horse.
What other competitions do you and the team really want to win?
We would love to the win the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. I also love the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ – it is one of my favourite places. The first time I went there, Max was third with Chardonnay 79, so I would love to better that and win there.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Seeing the horses grow and develop. I first meet Elektric Blue P when he was a youngster, and I have watched him grow up to be such an incredible horse. When he won the Rolex Grand Prix here last year I cried so much. When you start watching them in young-horse classes, and then they are up on the podium at one of the biggest competitions in the world, it is everything. It makes the job so special.
Who is Max competing with in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?
Eic Coriolis Des Isles is the horse that Max will ride in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday. He surprised us last year with his results, we never expected him to jump so well, so it is really exciting to hopefully watch him continue to grow this year.
How has he [Eic Coriolis Des Isles] been prepared for the Rolex Grand Prix
He spent a few weeks competing on the Sunshine Tour earlier in the year. We [Max and Mariella] have been in Doha for the last two weeks, so our home rider has been keeping him fit. She is doing a great job with the horses, so I am confident he is fully prepared for Sunday.
What is he like at home in the stable?
He eats everything – he is very greedy! He also pulls down everything in his stable including blankets and curtains.
How long have you worked with Max?
As a full-time employee it will be four-years this summer. I also did an apprenticeship with him when I was 15-years-old. It was really nice when I started working for him full-time as I already knew the stables, the staff, the horses and how everything worked.
What is it like to work with Max?
He is a great boss. I am the type of person that always has to have a plan for the day; he has realised this, so we now work together to create a schedule for each day which makes sure that everything runs smoothly. We have a lot of fun, and he makes you feel very comfortable – it all works very well.
What is your advice for people who want to become a professional groom?
Never stop learning. You should always take advice from the other grooms. You learn so much from just being around them and speaking and listening to them. I also think you have to really love your job and the horses.
Word From the Organizer with:
Show Director Marcel Hunze
Firstly, how does it feel to have spectators at The Dutch Masters for the first time in two years?
We are thrilled to have the fans back. I think that the riders and sponsors will also be very happy to have them here at The Dutch Masters; the fans of course, I’m sure will be excited to be able to return. Last year, we had to run the show without spectators, and it was a completely different atmosphere. I think the fans influence the riders, especially when they are competing in front their home-crowd. For example, at CHI Geneva, when the Swiss riders are competing it creates an incredible atmosphere and it can lift the performance of the riders, like it did with Martin Fuchs. Let’s hope that it helps the Dutch riders here this weekend!
What are the main lessons you have learnt following two years of disruption to the event?
As an event we have always had to be flexible – but especially over the last few years we have had to be very adaptative to change. In 2021, there was a lot of change, initially we decided to run the show behind closed doors, then two weeks before the show, we had to suddenly cancel due the spread of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1), and then find new dates to run the show later on in the year.
Even this year, we had to decide in January whether to run The Dutch Masters. At that time there were restrictions which meant we could only have 1,250 people and all spectators had to be seated. We made the decision to go ahead even with the restrictions, but luckily now those restrictions have been loosened slightly. Now, we can have up to 500 people unseated, but not even one person more otherwise all spectators would have to be tested every 24-hours. We are able to have a small shopping village and the warm-up arena is available to the public. We have had to improvise a lot over the last few years, but that is our job. It is very challenging but also very satisfying when a plan works out in the end.
How have the preparations of putting on an event of this scale changed since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2019?
A few things have changed. Our suppliers and sponsors are now more cautious. Luckily, we were able to pay everyone over these last few years, so we are seen as reliable partner. A lot of suppliers and companies have had bad experiences with other events as they could not pay or have gone bankrupt. We have learnt that communication has become far more important. Before you would just sign an agreement and then there would be limited contact afterwards. Now, you need to have more communication to make sure that everyone is happy and knows what is going on.
How big is your team and have any new roles been introduced?
There is a fixed team of about 10 people, and that number continually grows in the build-up to The Dutch Masters. In ‘normal times’ we would usually have 1,500 people working at the event, this year however, there are about 800 people on the team. There are fewer this year because there is less catering and a smaller shopping village. But our team is very experienced, and we work very well together.
We have been working with our suppliers for a long time and we really like that because they know what we expect from them. We expect high quality and flexibility – our suppliers know if they deliver on this then we will work with them for a long time. We really like working with people for a long time because building up loyalty and trust is very important to ensure that we have a successful show.
What keeps you motivated and your drive high?
My motivation is to improve the show every year. Now that we are part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, there is even more motivation to continue to innovate and get better. All the Rolex Grand Slam Show Directors meet up and discuss how, not only, we can improve the individual shows but how we can improve the whole Rolex Grand Slam. Being part of this special group is very motivating, and we challenge each other to get better.
How does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhance the status of The Dutch Masters?
We are so proud to be part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. It was our main goal after we stopped hosting the FEI World Cup™. We have seen so much improvement in the event, including the level of competitors and therefore the level of competition. There is far more international interest and exposure for The Dutch Masters now, with more international visitors and media. There has been so much improvement and we are thrilled to be part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
Looking ahead to the weekend, what can the spectators expect to see at The Dutch Masters?
World-class sport – the horse and rider combinations competing here are the best in the world, so spectators can expect a thrilling competition. The Dutch Masters is known for its incredible atmosphere and fun parties, but of course this year due to the restrictions they will be smaller but we will make sure everyone has great time!
Which horse and rider combinations could win the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?
For the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping concept, it would be great if Martin Fuchs won as he is the Live Contender, and that would make it very exciting. The home-crowd would love it if a Dutch rider would win, I think Harrie Smolders could win or at least be one of the best riders at the show.