The Audi Prize brings another win for the untouchable Dutch
It was another night of crowd-pleasing entertainment in the Brabanthallen, as Maikel van der Vleuten took the victory in the Audi Prize, the second Rolex Grand Prix qualifier. The Dutch maestro produced an uncatchable clear, in the time of 37.25 seconds, knocking over three-seconds off the time set by last year’s Rolex Grand Prix winner, Niels Bruynseels (BEL).
That was a very fast round, how did the ride feel to you?
It was a tough competition, with strong riders, so I knew I had to go for it. Dana Blue is a very strong horse, she won yesterday and is naturally very, very quick and that’s the type of horse you need these days.
The Dutch team are taking all the top spots this week, what’s it like to win in front of the home crowd?
Performing in front of my home crowd certainly gives me even more motivation. So far, it’s going very well here. Tomorrow is the Rolex Grand Prix and I hope we can continue our winning streak, but it will be a very tough competition.
How will you be preparing for the Rolex Grand Prix tomorrow?
We will stick to our normal routine. I will make sure my horse (Verdi TN) is in good shape, yesterday he jumped very well in the big class, he was double clear. Today I gave him a bit of an easy day so I am hoping he will be very fresh tomorrow!
Who do you think your biggest competition is tomorrow?
There are so many riders, it’s hard to say. That’s the thing, it’s always exciting in our sport because out of the 40 riders you have at least 25 combinations who can give it a serious go!
Now that The Dutch Masters is part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, has the event been enhanced?
Yes, I think it is a really good thing that this show is now one of the Majors. It is so important, being such a horse country, that we have a world-class event like this in Holland. It’s great for the Dutch people.
Walk the course with: Course Designer Louis Koninckx
How is the course looking for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?
In the Rolex Grand Prix, you have the top riders in the world, and they know they are here to be tested. I started to think about the course for this year, looking back to the course of 2018, to use it as a base. I think we have a nice variation on the type of course for this year’s Rolex Grand Prix and it should be a great competition.
How many clears are you hoping for?
In terms of drama, people usually say they want between six and eight clear rounds. I have learnt through the years that when we have the heroes in the jump-off, (i.e. a famous Dutch, German, or Belgian rider, for example), the crowd is much more engaged. I would rather have more than six-eight, and have some of the sports heroes, than have fewer riders. When your favourites are riding in the jump-off, everybody is riding with them.
Which horse and rider combinations do you think might be suited to the course?
The course that I have built this year will need a lot of scope, but that’s not enough. The riders who have a very good partnership with their horses are a favourite for me. It means they will be able to react really quickly. I hope I have set a good time to test the riders and we have a mix of long and short distances. I think the winner will have to be an all-round combination.
Who do you think has a good chance of winning the Grand Prix on Sunday?
I cannot say a name, but the Dutch riders will be good because they want to win, and the crowds will be supporting them. The winner, will in any case, be able to manage the moment well and be prepared, meaning that they started getting ready for The Dutch Masters months ago.
How did you get into course designing?
I started years ago as a rider in National competitions. I was a mediocre talent of a rider, but it gave me some ideas about how a course should be. Once, I was giving the course designer a hard time and he said to me ‘well you try it for yourself’, so I did. This was over 30 years ago. Afterwards I had an opportunity to assist at Valkenswaard, which was then a Rolex competition. For me this was the perfect chance to get involved.
What are the biggest challenges that you face being a course designer at this level?
In general, it’s achieving a balance between letting the horses showcase their talent, whilst also being an exciting and dramatic competition for the audience. It’s a balance that can be tricky but always needs to be achieved.
Have you seen the effects of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has had on the sport?
Yes indeed. What’s special with the Rolex Grand Slam is that each of the Four Majors involved have an extremely strong character. A lot of shows are developing in a very good way, but the deep character of the Rolex Majors are remarkable. Everybody knows this.
I can also say that the support I have from the Rolex team is always perfect and friendly. They are always asking for what I need. I have always been very impressed by the relationship we have together.
Riders interview with: Nicola Philippaerts
Which horses are you competing on this weekend?
I’ll be competing this weekend on H&M Ikker, Cayani and Captain Jack. Cayani and Captain Jack are quite new horses so we will see what happens…
Do you need different horses for different arenas? Obviously, The Dutch Masters has quite a tight arena, compared to something like CHIO Aachen that has a big wide arena?
I think every horse suits a different ring, but I think the best horses in the world can jump well in any ring. The Dutch Masters is completely different to Aachen so maybe you need a horse with a bigger stride in Aachen, but I think a really good horse can compete in both arenas.
Do any of the horses you have here this weekend have any interesting characteristics in the stables?
Ikker I haven’t had very long yet, my brother always rode him before but he’s quite cool at home and then when he gets in the ring he can look a little bit more, spook a little bit more, but is a very nice horse.
Why is The Dutch Masters such a special show to compete at?
I have been coming to The Dutch Masters for a few years but I think the last two years that it has become part of the Rolex Grand Slam, it has become one of the best shows in the world. The Rolex Grand Slam Majors are some of the best shows in the world, I am very happy to be here and be competing this weekend.
What’s a typical day in the life for you?
Well we travel a lot. From Wednesday to Sunday we are always at a different show in a different country but Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday we try to get the horses ready for the upcoming shows at the weekend. We have quite big stables with many horses so actually its 24/7 with the horses.
Is there a sibling rivalry between you and your brother?
I think in the ring we have a rivalry but at home we are one big team and we try to help each other out wherever we can. It’s very nice to go to the shows together.
If you weren’t doing equestrian sport as your profession, what would you like to do?
Well, that’s a very difficult question. We’ve grown up our whole lives around horses. Our father rode a lot of shows before and competed at the top level for many years, so I guess we’d be doing something to do with horses also.