2016 Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva winner, Pedro Veniss & Quabri de L’Isle Ph. ©Tiffany Van Halle
In one of the most shocking and exciting classes of the year, Brazil’s Pedro Veniss notched his biggest career victory, winning the €1,200,000 Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday, December 10 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Until Sunday afternoon, Veniss’s best result to date had been his third place finish in the €1.5 Million CP International Rolex Grand Prix in 2015. Now, given his brilliant Sunday ride aboard Quabri de L’isle, he can now boast a win in a Major of the sport—which has ushered along with it a new cycle in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
Apart from the obvious pressures of taking on one of the most challenging tracks in the world, the atmosphere of CHI Geneva’s Palexpo Arena was intimidating in and of itself. As the large velvet curtains of the in-gate pulled back, riders were unveiled to the thralls of some of the sport’s most dedicated and engaged fans housed inside the massive indoor arena. A serious venue to say the least. But when the crowd played witness to a clear round, it erupted in thunderous applause. Applause that is no doubt still ringing in the ears of Pedro Veniss.
Forty elite horses and riders—including all of the current world top ten—qualified for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix. Gérard Lachat of Switzerland and Luc Musette of Belgium combined forces once again to create a 1.60m track worthy of the best in the world. The course designers delivered in full, providing a Round 1 track with 17 jumping efforts that was not for the faint of heart.
The time allowed of 76 seconds caused little concern. However, the winding track left no room for pause. A forward and consistent pace to ride the wide set oxers and combinations successfully was required as each came up quickly, one after the other. Lowered rails were frequent as a fair amount of the talent on the entry list proved to struggle through the course.
Jeroen Dubbeldam, Gregory Wathelet, Friday’s Rolex IJRC Top Ten Final winner, Eric Lamaze, and Marcus Ehning all went on to retire from competition after each accrued multiple faults throughout their trips.
Also left off the list of those returning for the jump off were the USA’s Kent Farrington and McLain Ward and Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen winner, Phillip Weishaupt.
Though some struggled, some also thrived. Third to go in the order and first to ride clear was Belgium’s Niels Bruynseels and Cas de Liberte (Cracky Z x Chellano). Bruynseels was joined later by Christian Ahlmann, the French quartet of Roger Yves Bost, Kevin Staut, Pénélope Leprevost, and Simon Delestre, and Great Britain’s Scott Brash.
Also delivering an exceptional clear round was Switzerland’s own, and defending class champion, Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets. The 15-year-old Selle Francais gelding (Kannan x Narcos II), whose retirement ceremony was held at the conclusion of Sunday’s grand prix, was met with a roar of cheers and the waving of hand painted signs. A delighted crowd rose to their feet as they watched the 2012 Olympic individual champions together in the ring for the last time.
The 16 riders who survived Round 1 advanced to the jump off, but the excitement was far from over. The 8-fence shortened track had its fair share of challenges with multiple rollback turns to towering oxers. Christian Ahlmann’s Taloubet Z ( Galoubet A x Polydor) had an abrupt stop at the oxer at fence no. 15, nearly removing him from the tack. The pair would later finish on 15 faults, effectively keeping them out of the top 10 finishers.
Misfortune also came to young Martin Fuchs during a rollback turn to the single wall obstacle on course, when Clooney 51 (Cornet Obolensky x Ferragamo) suddenly stopped. It was unclear if due to his body coming into contact with the wall or Fuchs’s momentum up the horse’s neck and head caused the 10-year-old Westphalian gelding to lose his bridle. Although both horse and rider quickly recovered, Fuchs was forced to dismount to re-tack his horse, thus eliminating him from the jump off.
Further heartbreak followed a few trips later for Steve Guerdat. A refusal early on at fence no. 13 elicited a huge gasp and sigh from the crowd as hopes for a final victory on home turf disappeared.
Fourth in the order, Pedro Veniss delivered an impressively ridden jump off round aboard his 2016 Rio Olympic partner Quabri de L’Isle (Kannan x Socrate de Chivre). Riding the tight roll back turns with ease, the pair crossed the timers at 38.96 seconds to take the win.
Rolf Göran-Bengtsson and the prolific stallion Casall ASK made their final Rolex Grand Slam Grand Prix appearance one to remember riding double clear in 40.39 seconds taking over the then-second place position. Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts and H&M Legend Of Love (Landzauber x Corgraf) bested Bengtsson’s time in 39.21 seconds to ultimately secure the actual second place finish.
“I was very happy with my horse today. I think it was a close call,” Philippaerts said about his ride in Round 2. “I didn’t get to see Pedro’s jump off, but it was very fast when I saw his time. I just tried to do my own round which I did. I added one more stride to the last vertical and I think that cost me the first place but after all I’m very happy with the horse. I think he’s a great horse and for me, a special horse for the future.”
Last to enter the ring, looking to secure back-to-back Grand Slam wins was Scott Brash. A nail-biting round to watch, Brash piloted his $3 Million CP International Rolex Grand Prix winning partner, Ursula XII (Ahorn x Papageno) to 3rd place at 39.41 seconds.
As Brash exited the ring, the results were in and Pedro Veniss was seen grinning from ear-to-ear in excitement.
“Quabri jumped fantastic in the first round and so I thought, now I need to try everything in the jump off because it’s been a childhood dream of mine to win here,” Veniss shared in a remark read in English at the final press conference.
The start of Veniss’s great journey began in Calgary at Spruce Meadows last year.
“I was third in the grand prix there and that was my best result ever and I was so pleased,” Veniss said.
At the end of the Masters, Veniss was invited to attend the CHI Geneva CSI5* last season and was double clear to finish in 8th place in the 2015 Rolex Grand Prix. Now the winner of the Rolex Grand Prix, Veniss has won one-third of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, establishing himself a contender to vie for the elusive trio of wins in the Grand Slam series starting at CHIO Aachen in July 2017.
Full results of the 2016 Rolex Grand Prix at this link.