McLain Ward (USA) & HH Azur ©Rolex/Thomas Lovelock
The pinnacle class of The Dutch Masters came in the form of Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. The Brabanthallen’s knowledgeable crowd was full of anticipation, ahead of being treated to unparalleled levels of precision, bravery and athleticism from the world’s best show jumpers. 35 horse and rider combinations, including eight of the top 10, all battled to claim one of the most prestigious prizes in the sport, the Rolex Grand Prix.
First to master Louis Konickx’s expertly designed 17-obstacle course was the World No.1, Henrik von Eckermann, aboard his FEI World Championship gold medal-winning partner King Edward. Next into the arena, France’s Julien Epaillard, produced a faultless round to ensure a jump-off. Rolex Testimonee Martin Fuchs, current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Live Contender McLain Ward, and winner of the 2022 Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen Gerrit Nieberg also showed their class to join the elite group of riders going through to the second round. Meanwhile, the Dutch crowd came alive when the winner of the VDL Groep Prize on Friday evening, Willem Greve, rode an immaculate round of jumping.
With 16 riders, including the top four ranked riders in the world, making it through to the jump-off, fans were set for a true spectacle of speed and agility. Sweden’s Henrik van Eckermann laid down the gauntlet with a breathtakingly fast clear in the time of 38.52 seconds, however this lead was soon eclipsed by Julien Epaillard, who came home 0.46 seconds faster. Live Contender McLain Ward then stepped up the pace once again to keep chances his of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping alive. France’s Simon Delestre looked to take the win away from Ward finishing 0.09 seconds faster, but heartbreak came when the final Rolex oxer fell. This left Ward to take the victory and retain his title as Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Live Contender.
Speaking on his extraordinary win, McLain Ward said: “I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet, it was lot of stress having to watch the remaining 12 riders in the jump-off. The level here so high, and I think later tonight I will realise what we have achieved. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has truly raised the bar of the sport and winning a Major is one of the greatest moments in a riders career. I am so proud of my team and my horse – and a little proud of myself.”
Commenting on his horse, the Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender said: “She is smarter than everybody else and is truly a queen. I think she understands what is happening and really rises to the moment. She loves her job and the partnership that we have created is truly so special. We will now aim her for CHIO Aachen to try and win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.”