The Jumping highlight of the Royal Windsor Horse Show (RWHS) came from the Rolex Grand Prix. Bathed in the glorious afternoon sunshine, Windsor Castle proved a fitting backdrop for this prestigious class. With the world’s best riders gathered for the CSI5* Rolex Grand Prix, a truly international field representing 12 different countries, collected to tackle the course.
It was none other than show jumping legend John Whitaker who was first to tackle the technical and up-to-height track (1m60) set by Portuguese course designer Bernardo Costa Cabral. Unfortunately, Whitaker couldn’t quite pull off the result that both he and the crowd had hoped for. Second into the ring, Bertram Allen set the standard for the rest of the field and, just a few horses later, France’s Kevin Staut with Dialou Blue PS ensured that there would be a jump-off. Clear rounds came throughout the class, with a total of four clears before the mid-way break.
Britain’s Scott Brash and Joseph Stockdale were some of the unlucky riders who finished on four faults, with an uncharacteristic six from Harry Charles. However, Greece’s only representative — and RWHS first-timer — Ioli Mytilineou, joined the exclusive group proceeding into the jump-off, as did winners of the 2021 Rolex Grand Prix at the Show, Ben Maher and Explosion W, and former World No.1 Martin Fuchs, who was third behind Maher that day.
In total, nine combinations made it through to the jump-off, providing top-class entertainment for the packed-out crowds. Ireland’s Bertram Allen, with his top horse Pacino Amiro, was first into the Castle Arena. The partnership, who have had huge successes in Wellington, Florida, earlier this year, produced a faultless round in the time of 34.50 seconds. Five combinations in total jumped clear, but it was the battle between Ben Maher and Martin Fuchs that truly set the crowds alight. Having just come back from injury, Maher, with his Olympic gold-medal winning gelding, looked to be unbeatable, but Fuchs’ spectacular turn to the penultimate fence helped him clinch the victory by 0.40 seconds.
A delighted Fuchs said:
Connor Jei was fantastic today. He’s back after quite a long break since Geneva as he did a lot of shows last year, so we gave him the indoor season off. To be honest he wasn’t so easy at the last show I took him to, so I wanted some advice on what I should be doing differently and how I could help the horse to be at his best again, so I called my uncle – Markus Fuchs – and he has been riding him three times a week, so I’m very lucky to have him to help.”
The Rolex Grand Prix always has the best horse and rider combinations so it’s an honour to be competing, and then to be winning and to be standing on top of the podium at such a prestigious Rolex Grand Prix makes me very proud.”
On his round, he said:
I knew who I needed to watch, and Bertram and Ben were the two rounds I watched. Bertram had a hard draw – to go first in the jump-off is never easy, but he did everything very well. Then I watched Ben and saw where he left out the strides compared to Bertram, and just tried to do the same round as that, just hoping to be a bit quicker. I think I made up a little bit of time to the second last – I knew that I wanted to do seven strides to the turn, which is what Ben did, I actually didn’t turn as hard as him, so I really had to push hard for those seven strides and I think that’s what made it quicker in the end.”
Maher, at only his second show since breaking his shoulder, said:
I’m very happy, Explosion jumped incredible, he’s been out for eight or nine months, he just did two small classes last week so to come here this week and show his experience and perform in a Rolex Grand Prix like that, I’m very proud of my team bringing him back. I did what I had to do in the jump-off, I took a lot of risks and nine times out of ten that might have been enough, but it’s never over when you’ve got Martin after you. I don’t think I could have done any more, on the day he was the better rider and I had to settle for second.”
A packed day of top-class competition on Sunday concluded the 2023 Royal Windsor Horse Show. Elsewhere, Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet was victorious in the morning’s CSI5* Manama Rose Show Stakes. It was also a day for the country’s best up-and-coming talent, with Antonia Platt bringing home The Defender Under 25 Jumping title, England taking first place in the DAKS Pony Club Mounted Games Final, and Zara Nicholls, daughter of champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls, victorious in The Defender Shetland Pony Grand National Final.
Feature image: CSI5* Rolex Grand Prix, was won by Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs. Copyright RoyalWindsorHorseShow/PeterNixon