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Inside CHI Geneva: Mclain Ward wins the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva and becomes the Rolex Grand Slam live contender

Sunday, 11 December 2022
CHI Geneva 2022

Mclain Ward wins the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva and becomes the Rolex Grand Slam live contender

Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder. Mclain Ward and HH Azur. Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder.

 

Press release from Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

 


 

Before the Rolex Grand Prix – the highlight class of the 61st edition of CHI Geneva – got underway, 8,000 adoring fans said farewell to an all-time great horse, Martin Fuchs’ legendary gelding, Clooney 51, who was retired in August 2021. After winning this Rolex Grand Slam Major in 2019 with the now 16-year-old grey, a visibly emotional Fuchs paraded Clooney to each corner of the Geneva Arena, to rapturous applause and cheering from all who watched on, before closing with a short speech honouring his loyal companion. 

The scene was then set for this year’s Rolex Grand Prix, in which 40 horse and rider combinations representing 14 nations – including 16 out of the current top 20-ranked riders – lined-up, each staking a claim for one of the sport’s most sought-after prizes, as part of their Rolex Grand Slam quests. Course designers Gérard Lachat and Louis Konickx set a technical, 14-obstacle first round test, which would be followed by a nine-effort jump-off, should two or more partnerships navigate the opening round without a fault. 

Great Britain’s Ben Maher (Dallas Vegas Batilly) recorded the 1.60m class’s first clear, emulated soon after by Daniel Deusser of Germany with Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z. At the halfway stage, a further seven riders had gone clear, including Gilles Thomas (Calleryama), French duo Kevin Staut (Scuderia 1918 Viking d'la Rousserie) and Simon Delestre (Cayman Jolly Jumper), Andre Thieme (DSP Chakaria) and Christian Ahlmann (Dominator 2000 Z) of Germany, Dane Andreas Schou (Darc de Lux), and Irishman Shane Sweetnam (James Kann Cruz). The second half of the round witnessed just four additional riders progressing to the jump-off, with the Oxer-Liverpool (6a) proving to be the trickiest and most knocked down. These riders included crowd favourites, Martin Fuchs (Leone Jei) and Elian Baumann (Little Lumpi E), American Mclain Ward (HH Azur), and a delighted Daniel Bluman of Israel (Ladriano Z), making a final shoot-out of 13 pairings. 

Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, Daniel Deusser set the early jump-off pace and put the pressure on after becoming the first to go double clear in a time of 42.58 seconds. However, it wasn’t to be a second consecutive Major victory for Deusser after Simon Delestre went 0.12 seconds faster, with the Frenchman’s time soon being eclipsed by next gen Belgian talent Gilles Thomas, who went 1.58 seconds quicker still (40.88 seconds). After both Christian Ahlmann and Rolex Testimonee, Kevin Staut were unable to go clear, Saturday’s winner of the Credit Suisse Challenge, Shane Sweetnam, looked like a man possessed, going clear and knocking Thomas off top spot in 40.48 seconds, a time that looked unbeatable. However, next into the arena, Martin Fuchs proved Thomas’ time in fact was beatable, going sub-40 seconds (39.77 seconds), and in turn sending the crowd wild. With penultimate rider Daniel Bluman putting one down, Fuchs’ destiny lay in the hands of American Mclain Ward and his 16-year-old bay mare HH Azur. Renowned for their speed and accuracy, the pair glided around the course, going faster than Fuchs at the first two sectors, eventually clearing the final fence over a second quicker than the Swiss, etching their names into Rolex Grand Slam history, with Ward ultimately becoming the Live Contender.  

On his first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major victory and where it ranks among his career wins, Mclain Ward, said: “To win the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva ranks right up amongst the very greatest moments. Olympic gold medals, the Grand Prix in Calgary – this is a very special moment.”

And on what makes CHI Geneva such a special place to compete at, Mclain Ward, commented: “Its people! I mean, it’s spectacular, the atmosphere, the environment, the organisers and sponsors make it so special that the competitors rise to the day.”

 


 

Meet the next gen: Alexandra Amar

Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder. Alexandra Amar. Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder.

Why is CHI Geneva such a special show?

It’s a home show so it’s already something special, as you’re competing in front of your home crowd, which is really lovely. For my part, I’ve been selected to compete at CHI Geneva three times, which means a lot to me. Michel Sorg, who is responsible for the [Swiss Team] selection is always believing in me and always giving me my chance. And of course, CHI Geneva is the most beautiful indoor show in the world, so it’s always a very special feeling to be competing here. 

How much inspiration do you take from fellow Swiss riders, such as Martin Fuchs and Steve Guerdat?

When I was a little kid I was always lining-up to get a signature from Martin and Steve, so to be competing with them is something that means a lot to me. I’ve been dreaming of it and working hard, and now being there with them, my dreams are kind of coming true. This year, we can also speak about Edouard [Schmitz], who is competing at 5* level; he has had a wonderful year, and I think he is now an idol, who we can all take inspiration from. 

Which horses are you competing with this week? 

I’ve had a bit of disappointment jumping here this week, as I brought a very green horse with me to jump at this level, to give him his chance, but maybe it was a little bit early. The horse is Lyon Van De Plataan, he’s 10-years-old and a super-quick horse and very competitive, especially at this level. But this arena is very spooky, with a lot of things to look at, so for a horse who is a little bit green, it was maybe a little bit too early, but he’s definitely a horse for the future and one we will keep an eye on. 

 


 

The vet check: Dr. Marco Hermann

Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder. Dr. Marco Hermann. Photo © Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder.

What is your role at CHI Geneva?

I am the veterinary delegate for the FEI at CHI Geneva. I am in charge of looking at the veterinary rules set by the FEI and making sure that they are implemented correctly. This starts with the organisation of the veterinary team and examination of the horses on arrival – making sure that they are sound, that they do not have any signs of the EHV virus and ensuring that the horses are fit to compete. Another important job that we have is conducting doping tests and treating any horses on-site, who have become unwell or lame. 

Have you worked on any other international equestrian events?

I have been fortunate to be able to work on a variety of different international events with the FEI. I was the veterinary delegate for CSI Zürich for 30 years, as well as for CSIO St. Gallen for almost 40 years. I have also been in charge of the veterinary team at CHI Basel and the FEI World Championships.This is the second year that I will be the veterinary delegate at CHI Geneva. Before you could work an event with no break, but nowadays the veterinary team has to change every three years, so next year will be my last year working at CHI Geneva. This was the reason that I was able work for those other events for so long. 

What is a typical day for you like?

It is difficult to say now because I am retired, so I can enjoy my life a bit more. I no longer have to drive all day to clients like I did for many years – it could sometimes be from 6am in the morning to 10pm at night. In the past I also used to help students in the clinic. These days, veterinary practices are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, which sometimes meant I would be operating all night.

 


 

About the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

The Rolex Grand Slam is considered by the sport to be the ultimate equestrian challenge, primarily due to the sporting prowess required to achieve this feat. It is a quest taken on by the world’s top riders, vying to secure the legendary status associated with winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

The format of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is simple: anyone who wins three Majors in a row receives the Rolex Grand Slam trophy and a €1 million bonus on top of the class’s prize-money. If that same rider then continues their success by winning a fourth Major in succession, they will be rewarded with an additional €1million bonus. If two shows are won in succession, the bonus is €500,000 or if an athlete wins only 2 majors in a period of four successive shows, the bonus is €250,000.



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