Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann and Toveks Mary Lou emerged victorious in the Rolex grand prix to rapturous applause over course-designer Bob Ellis’ challenging course, making a thrilling finale at Royal Windsor in front of a packed crowd.
The track demanded bold and precise riding from the field of 34 combinations, including 15 of the world’s top 20 riders, contesting the €500,000 prize, the richest purse ever in UK show jumping. The tough course reduced the sensational calibre of talent down to 12 clears to progress to the jump-off.
First to go in the deciding round was British rider William Funnell, whose home-bred nine-year-old Billy Diamo (Cevin Z/Andiamo) demonstrated sheer skill and bravery to secure the first double clear round. The pair set the tone for the rest of the competition, having made the decision to go for precision rather than pace.
“The crowd behind you really makes you want to do well,” said William, who is aiming Diamo as a potential championship horse – We hope he will qualify for the 2020 Olympics and this year we are aiming for the European Championships – he is that type of horse.”
Next to go also waving the British flag, was Robert Whitaker and 16-year old Catwalk IV. Despite a strong start the pair were unable to sustain a clear round as the fast pace led to an unlucky pole down.
Belgian rider Gregory Wathelet (Spike Van Der Withoeve), already a winner this week and hoping to replicate his success, was the first of several combinations to incur four faults at the Rolex oxer at the last. It was Frenchman Simon Delestre (Hermes Ryan) who was able to successfully challenge William and knock him into second place. Delestre’s carefully navigated turns obtained a clear round in 45.07 seconds, although not the fastest over the ground yet, he was the quickest clear and into the lead. German riders Christian Ahlmann (Take A Chance On Me Z) and Daniel Deusser (Cornet 39) were likely contenders to challenge Delestre’s time. Both competitors were a real threat against the clock, however, they finished with four and eight faults, respectively, keeping Delestre in prime position with five riders to go.
Henrik Von Eckermann wasted no time in shaving time off the clock with the 13-year-old mare Toveks Mary Lou. A tight turn into the penultimate fence and speed into the last oxer shaved over two seconds off Delestre’s time and snatch first place. With two to go, including two Olympic medallists, Eckermann had confirmed a top three position but faced the toughest competition yet, leading to a nail-biting conclusion to the Rolex Grand Prix.
Eric Lamaze, who secured his place in the jump-off with great form, would no doubt be one of the strongest contenders for pace. However, the Canadian rider had a pole down at the second and the last fence with Chacco Kid. This meant the results of the competition were in the hands of Kent Farrington (USA), a two-time winner at Royal Windsor Horse Show, and Creedance.
The former World Number One and his chestnut gelding Creedance, seemed to be the likely winners as the pair presented one of the most striking rides of the jump-off, until an unexpected error at the last resulted in four faults to confirm Eckermann the winner.
“Mary Lou is such a fantastic horse; she is so quiet at home but when she gets to shows she really comes to life and gets very excited. She has a fantastic mind, she always helps me and really wants to make it, that’s what makes her such a special horse,” said Henrik. “I haven’t competed here for 10 years, so it is great to be back! The crowd was amazing, and I have really enjoyed my time at this event. I definitely hope to be back next year to defend the title!”
William finished an eventual third with Robert taking sixth place in the line-up.
Shane Breen held off a strong British contingent to win the Manama Rose Show Stakes with Can Ya Makan. Twenty-six contended this world ranking 5* speed with British-based Irishman Shane forging ahead on the Canturo 13-year-old stallion to win by an impressive 1.72 sec.
Guy Williams netted second on Cicero II with Scott Brash third on Hello Senator, John Whitaker slotted Argento into fourth and Harry Charles brought up the rear for the British challengers for fifth on new ride Cabanus.
Joseph Stockdale led the way in a four-strong decider to win the under 25 grand prix on Gunner II. Three provided treble clears, Joseph and the Winningmood 13-year-old winning by 1.76 sec. Olivia Howe eased Evita XV into second ahead of Charlie Jones on Dexter XI. Chloe Reynolds produced the fastest time of the lot by more than three sec on Grenadier Volo but a rail down dropped the pair to fourth.
Katie Speller on Corenta Va and Alfie Bradstock with H D’Or both came home on one time fault in round one to take fifth and sixth.
Text and Photos © Jumping Around & courtesy rEvolution/RWHS