An overcast day with cooler temperatures than the preceding week welcomed over 71,000 fans to the hallowed Spruce Meadows venue for the third equestrian Major of the year. Widely regarded as one of the toughest Grands Prix on the show jumping calendar, course designer Leopoldo Palacios did not disappoint and built it to capacity, to test the world’s best on this famous stage. Towering fences, tough combinations and technically exacting lines were created for the 42nd edition of this Grand Prix.
Prior to the start of the class Palacios affirmed, “The course is challenging and tough – it’s for the biggest prize in the world. I’ve built two Olympics and (the course for) this class is tougher than the finals there.”
With the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex defending champion, Philipp Weishaupt (GER), the current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, Marcus Ehning (GER) and Rolex Testimonees Eric Lamaze, Kent Farrington and Steve Guerdat (world number five, eight and nine respectively), the competition was set to be an exhilarating one. All eyes would be focused on Ehning to see if he could continue his Rolex Grand Slam journey.
From the very start of this two-round class (and a jump-off if scores permit), the course lived up to expectations. With one clear from the first 20 riders, the crowds were witness to a multitude of falling poles and time faults, as Palacios tested the horse and rider combinations to their very limit.
Last year’s winner, Weishaupt, was unable to repeat his 2017 performance with two rails down, taking him out of contention and halting further progress in the class. Rolex Testimonee Steve Guerdat (SUI) displayed courage, determination and precision as he expertly guided Hannah over the 17 jumping efforts, confirming his place in the second round. Joining Guerdat was Canada’s much-loved Eric Lamaze aboard the incomparable Fine Lady 5, who once again highlighted why he is a force to be reckoned with in the sport of show jumping.
Former world number one and Rolex Testimonee, Kent Farrington (USA), chose to retire his mount Creedance after an uncharacteristic 12 faults. Similarly, it was not to be for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, Ehning, as he retired Cornado NRW. After a dramatic first round there were seven clears, and a total of 12 riders progressing through to the second stage of this enthralling competition.
The morning clouds cleared, and sun welcomed the start of the second round. A revised course of 15 jumping efforts was presented to the riders, with an imposing triple on the final line, to be completed within the time allowed of 67 seconds. Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) who picked up four faults in the first round, led the way and set the bar high, with a faultless round.
Maikel van der Vleuten riding Verdi TN produced the first double clear of the day, putting even more pressure on the remaining first round clear riders. Rolex Testimonee Steve Guerdat was unable to contend with van der Vleuten and left the International Ring with nine faults. Sameh El Dahan also rose to the occasion, ensuring the enthralled crowds would be treated to a jump-off.
Lamaze rode out to a stampede of applause, as the patriotic home crowd willed for another clear. Fans rode every stride and every fence with the famous pairing, however Fine Lady 5 was unable to leave the last two jumping efforts standing.
Two riders awaited their chance to enter the International Ring for the third and final time, to tackle the jump-off. First to go was van der Vleuten, who impressively navigated the imposing arena leaving all the fences standing and crossing the finish line in a time of 42.98 seconds. The closing rider of the day, El Dahan, kept the crowd on the edge of their seats as he cut marginally tighter corners and sped around the course, jumping the last fence and crossing the finish line in a time of 42.21 seconds, beating van der Vleuten in the narrowest of margins and being crowned the new live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
Speaking after his win El Dahan said, “This is one of the biggest achievements of my career. The feeling is indescribable. I need a few days to make sure everything sinks in and believe that it actually happened. Going forward, the four Majors which make up the Rolex Grand Slam will be at the top of my list to compete at.”
The next leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping continues in December at CHI Geneva and the show jumping world will be focused on El Dahan, to see if he can continue his journey.