(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)
Following Tuesday evening’s Official Opening Ceremony, 2021’s edition of CHIO Aachen well and truly got underway with Wednesday’s Turkish Airlines – Prize of Europe, a qualifier for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix. The two-round Frank Rothenberger-designed course over 14 obstacles was staged in the iconic 40,000-seater Hauptstadion and contested by 48 horse and rider combinations representing 16 nations.
In the first round, Philipp Schulze Topphoff and his 11-year-old grey mare, Concordess NRW, set the early pace, going clear in a time of 84.86s. The German’s time was eventually bettered by both Ireland’s Darragh Kenny and his 14-year-old stallion, VDL Cartello, and Pieter Devos of Belgium and his 13-year-old mare, Mom’s Isaura, after they completed the 17-fence course fault-free in 84.37s and 84.77s, respectively.
With the best 25% of Round 1’s finishers qualifying for Round 2, nine further stellar combinations would progress, including the current world number one-ranked rider from Germany, Daniel Deusser (Bingo Ste Hermelle), Tokyo 2020 Team bronze medallists, Jérôme Guery (Eras Ste Hermelle) and Gregory Wathelet (Full House Ter Linden Z), Dutch duo Bart Bles (Gin D) and Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Dante N.O.P.), Portugal’s Luciana Diniz (Vertigo du Desert), Patricio Pasquel of Mexico (Babel), Israeli Daniel Bluman (Gemma W), and Max Kühner from Austria (Elektric Blue P).
First to go, April’s winner of the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters, Max Kühner, set off at blistering pace, completing the shorted nine-obstacle second round course without posting a penalty in 56.36s. One by one, and without success, the remaining riders desperately tried to better Kühner’s impressive time, which looked increasingly impossible. Daniel Deusser looked to be in contention, but put the penultimate pole down, and Gregory Wathelet was eventually outdone by the last. Jérôme Guery came within half a second of the Austrian’s time, while Luciana Diniz went agonisingly close, finishing just 0.19s off top spot. When Ireland’s on-form Darragh Kenny put three down, an ecstatic Kühner claimed the win, a seemingly perfect preparation for him and his champion 10-year-old bay gelding ahead of Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix.
Commenting on his Rolex Grand Prix strategy for his Major-winning partner, Elektric Blue P, Kühner, commented: “Tomorrow I will rest him and I will ride him on the flat a little bit. I will feel him and he will tell me what we do next. Either I will just leave him and work him until Sunday, or I will do one more small class, just to keep him a little bit in the rhythm and jumping. Sunday will be very big, so if we go all these days without jumping him, it might be too big in the beginning. He’s a very careful horse, so I’ll probably jump him in one more small round, which will keep him in the rhythm.”
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