Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

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Inside the CHIO Aachen 2024 : Wednesday 3 July

VOGEL VICTORIOUS IN THE TURKISH AIRLINES - PRIZE OF EUROPE

Photo credits : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof Photo credits : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof

Under the dazzling lights of the CHIO Aachen’s iconic main stadium, 45 of the world’s elite horse and rider show jumping combinations entered the arena with the hope of claiming Wednesday's pinnacle class, the Turkish Airlines – Prize of Europe. The competition also provided the first chance for riders to secure their place in Sunday’s iconic Rolex Grand Prix.  

As is often the case at the World Equestrian Festival, the field was truly star-studded and included the current Olympic and European individual Champions of Ben Maher and Steve Guerdat as well as the current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender Willem Greve riding the 12-year-old stallion, Highway T.N. N.O.P., with whom he won the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters earlier in the year.

First to jump clear around the challenging Frank Rothenberger-designed course – which consisted of 14 combinations – was Rene Ditter, but it was not meant to be for the German rider as he picked up two antagonising time penalties.

However, fifth to canter into the historic arena, the in-form Christian Kukuk riding Just Be Gentle produced the first clear inside the time much to the delight of the home crowd. Ireland’s Cian O’Connor, quickly followed suit just two horses later to ensure that the passionate crowds at the CHIO Aachen would be treated to a jump-off. Clears came throughout the class with six additional German combinations making it through to the second round including the 2023 victor of the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva, Richard Vogel. Last year’s winner of this class, Yuri Masur, looked determined to make it back-to-back wins as he produced a faultless round with QH Alfons Santo Antonio, as did the 2022 winner America’s McLain Ward.

Of the initial 45 riders, 12 proceeded to the jump-off and with numerous fast riders in the class it was set be an exciting jump-off. Riders returned to the arena in reverse order of merit meaning that Belgium’s Thibeau Spits who was first to face the shortened course. The young Belgian rider did not quite have the round he would have wanted as two fences fell. Second into the jump-off Christian Kukuk, set the standard for the remaining riders with a clear in the time of 48.48 seconds, a time that was quickly usurped by his compatriot Patrick Stühlmeyer.

America’s McLain Ward had the crowd on the edge of their seats as he flew around the course with the 16-year-old mare Callas, and took the lead by over two seconds – a time that looked hard to beat. However, next to go, the three-time Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major winner, Guerdat, soon proved it was possible, but heartbreak came when he had the penultimate fence down.

The German crowds then came alive as Richard Vogel and Cepano Baloubet flew around the course in 42.44 seconds to sit in provisional first place. None of the three remaining combinations could match the speed and accuracy of Vogel, meaning that he not only claimed his first Turkish Airlines – Prize of Europe, but his second 5* victory of the day.


Speaking on his victory, the German rider stated: “My horse [Cepano Baloubet] jumped amazingly tonight and he feels in great shape – he was really fighting for me today. The atmosphere was incredible – with the floodlights and all of the spectators, there is no other feeling quite like jumping here. It has been a dream start to the week!”

INTERVIEW WITH FRANK ROTHENBERGER

Photo credits : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof Photo credits : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof

For you, why is the CHIO Aachen such a special show?

The CHIO Aachen is the biggest equestrian show in the world and the Rolex Grand Prix there is one of the toughest Grands Prix to exist in show jumping. I always feel a lot of pressure when designing the CHIO Aachen courses as they have to be designed with exact and precise margins to get the right results.

Once again the top horse and rider combinations are here this year. Some of the horses have pre-qualified for the Rolex Grand Prix, and will solely jump in this class on Sunday. Other pre-qualified horses may jump in one class before, and many will have to qualify for the class by jumping in the Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup or the Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe class.

Myself and my team of course designers always plan the course for the Rolex Grand Prix weeks before and carefully watch the classes leading up to it to consider how the horses are performing and whether we need to change little things on the course. This year I think the riders are all really well prepared, and can use the classes earlier in the week to give their horses confidence for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the course that you have designed for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix?

It is a 1.60m course, so we build it to the maximum height, and there will be oxers with a width of 1.80m. There will be a double of ditches alongside the lake – which is tradition for the Rolex Grand Prix here at the CHIO Aachen, as well as a water jump. In total there will be 40 horses in the first round, 18 in the second and then hopefully five or six clear rounds to come to the jump-off.  

 

What are the main things to consider when you are designing a course, and what do you hope to achieve?

First of all, safety, to make sure nothing happens to any of the horses. It is really tough jumping, so we have to be careful with the distance between the fences and the material of them. Many of the jumps are kept a plain colour, like a solid white or rustic for example, so there aren’t so many poles with contrasting colours. The Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen is always a bit bigger than the other Grands Prix around the world, it is a big arena and I think the riders enjoy jumping around it.

 

If you could ride one horse in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday, who would you chose?

In years before, there used to be perhaps 10 or 12 potential winners out of the 40 riders in the Rolex Grand Prix. Nowadays, I think that 25 to 30, or even 40 riders could win the Rolex Grand Prix, so it is difficult to select one specific horse – there are many top horses.

 

How important is the team around you in a successful course?

I have three assistant course designers who work with me, along with one team member who produces the course drawings, three people who organise the storage of the fences. It’s a big group - overall, we have 50 people in the team, which is a good thing because we have to build the courses overnight under floodlights to prepare for the next day.

 

Which course are you most proud of? 

One of the courses I am most proud of is the one I designed at the FEI World Championships in 2006. On that course, a pole from every jump fell down at least once, so I think that was one of my best course designs. The course I designed for the FEI World Cup™ Final in Riyadh earlier this year was also very good.

 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in a career in course designing?

It is helpful if you have been a rider yourself before, as you then have a feeling for lines and placing jumps in the right positions. I think that aspiring designers should start at the local shows, and then pick one or two course designers who they can assist. To get to the top level in course designing takes between 15 and 20 years, so someone starting out in the industry should start when they are in their twenties if they want to design 5* classes one day. Like my daughter, she assists me but also many other course designers to help learn from different experiences.

 

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is the top of the sport but are there any other sports that you are passionate about? Do you take any inspiration from these other sports?

I go sailing, which is very different to horse riding! I sail all around the world – in the Mediterranean, the Seychelles, Thailand, everywhere! I stopped riding when I was 21 years of age to start my company when I was 22-years-old in course designing and that’s what I am still doing now.

 

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping was formed in 2013, and the first Major was held here at the CHIO Aachen. In your opinion, how big an impact has the concept had on the sport?

Every rider tries to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. I remember in 2015 when Scott Brash won three Majors in a row. He won the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva in December 2014, and luckily again at the CHIO Aachen, and then again at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in Calgary. Scott won a lot of money by winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, and all of the riders are still looking to repeat this achievement.  

INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY PHILIPPAERTS

Photo credits : Dirk Caremans / Hippofoto Photo credits : Dirk Caremans / Hippofoto

You’ve had a great career so far – what has been your proudest moment?

The proudest moment of my career so far is winning team gold at my last competition as a junior in 2021, which was at the FEI European Championship for Young Riders and Juniors in Vilamoura. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had. I think that it is every rider’s goal to go to the Europeans or a championship and win a gold medal.

 

You come from a show jumping dynasty – what advice do you take from your father and brothers?

It is not always easy to follow my father and brothers, but the best advice they have given me is to simply look at myself and try to make my own path. It is useful to see what my father and brothers have done, and to know that I can ask them for advice when I need it.

 

Do you feel any pressure to follow in the footsteps of the success that your father and brothers have had?

I definitely feel pressure!  My father achieved so much in his career and now my brothers are very successful. However they don’t pressurise me, I put the pressure on myself. I try my best not to think too much about it and focus on my own path.

 

Who are your role models away from your family?

Aside from my dad, I would say Ludger Beerbaum, he was at the top of the rankings for a such a long time. From of the riders that are competing now, I admire Henrik von Eckermann –  who trained in Ludger’s stables – and Jeroen Dubbledam. They have both won numerous championships, and for me they are some of the best examples in the sport right now.

 

What keeps you motivated and hungry for success?

I’m getting older now, this year is my last year as a young rider and I didn’t really have the horses for winning this year. However, I think it makes me more hungry. I have a few promising young horses for the future as I transition to competing as a senior. I am going to try my best to get to the top level, and to hopefully one day ride in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the horses that you have at the moment?

I have a few nice eight-year-olds, one of which I am riding this week, Gabell D’arvor. He has a long way to go but he is a promising horse. All together I currently have four eight-year-olds and one seven-year-old. They are a very promising string of horses, but I know I have to be patient with their progress.

 

The CHIO Aachen is the second Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major in 2024, can you explain how special this show is?

I rode at the CHIO Aachen for the first time last year in the Under-25 classes and the first thing I said after doing so was that I wanted to ride there again this year. The feeling of riding in the arena at Aachen is spectacular – it is the most beautiful arena in the world. I have been going to the event every year for a long time, watching my brothers and my father jump the big classes there, so it is a dream come true to be able to ride in there again this year.

 

As a young rider, what does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping mean to you?

For me, it is the highest level of the sport, taking place at the most beautiful shows in the world. The atmosphere at the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors is phenomenal. These shows attract the best horse and rider combinations in the world. For me, it is my biggest dream to compete in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors.

 

Away from show jumping, what other sports are you interested in?

I love to watch football and I follow Formula One a little. I sometimes play paddle tennis with my friends and when I was younger I used to play a lot of football, but there came a point when I had to choose, and I chose riding.

 

Do you have any superstitions before you compete?

I don’t really have superstitions. I try to keep my routine the same as usual, so that my preparations for myself and my horses stay consistent.

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