David Will posted the eleventh German win and became the tenth German rider to clinch the coveted Rolex Grand Prix of Rome at Piazza di Siena in Italy today. This is a title every top showjumping athlete wants to secure, with its history dating all the way back to 1926 and its Roll of Honour filled with so many superstars of the past.
Previous German winners include the phenomenal partnership of Hans Gunter Winkler and Halla who came out on top in 1956 and Franke Sloothaak and San Patrignano Joly Coeur who scored back-to-back victories in 1995 and 1996. Ludger Beerbaum was the last German to take the honour with Gotha FRH in 2012, and today 33-year-old Will saw his country’s flag raised once again on the final afternoon of one of the best-loved shows in the sport after a brilliant performance with C Vier 2.
From a starting field of 50, riders from 10 different countries qualified for the nail-biting 13-horse jump-off against the clock and it was America’s Laura Kraut and Jessica Springsteen who finished second and third. Ireland’s Bertram Allen lined up in fourth ahead of Belgium’s Jerome Guery in fifth, while European gold and World silver medallist Martin Fuchs from Switzerland had to settle for sixth place.
Uliano Vezzani’s 13-fence first-round track was big and unrelenting, with many faults at the triple combination at fence nine while the distances down the final line required control, power and accuracy to the very end. Amongst the many who were clear all the way to there were Fuchs and his multiple champion Clooney who qualified for the second round along with five others carrying four faults. And with just a single time fault each, Egypt’s Abdel Said riding Bandit Savoie and Italy’s Giampiero Garofalo and Gaspahr also made the cut.
But five were on zero faults as the second round began and, going in reverse order of merit based on their first-round time, David Will set the target for the remaining four when fifth-last to go. He hasn’t been riding C Vier long, but clearly this is a partnership that is really gelling, and giving the 13-year-old gelding all the freedom and guidance he needed to get the job done he scorched home in 42.34 seconds which was always going to test the rest.
America’s Springsteen produced the very first clear of the competition earlier in the day and confidently returned another in 45.15 seconds with Don Juan van de Donkhoeve when next into the arena, temporarily settling into runner-up spot. A first-fence error put paid to the chances of Frenchman Mathieu Billot and Lord de Muze and then second-last to go, double-Olympian Kraut, pushed her compatriot down the order when breaking the beam in 44.76 seconds with a great ride on her new mare, Baloutine.
Now only Bertram Allen and his talented nine-year-old Pacino Amiro stood between Germany’s Will and victory. The 25-year-old Irishman has a great reputation for speed riding but a risky turn to the final oxer didn’t pay off. However with 43.62 seconds showing on the clock he slotted into fourth place.
And with national selectors eyeing up likely candidates for the Tokyo Olympic Games, today’s results gave them plenty of food for thought. The riders were more than aware of that.
At the post-competition press conference, Springsteen admitted that she is hopeful of a place in the US team. “There’s still a bit to go but I’ve got one of the most incredible horses I have ever had, so I’ll try to stick to my plan, keep it up and keep my fingers crossed!”, she said.
For Kraut, who also looks to have booked her Tokyo ticket, today’s result was a very satisfying one. “I just got this horse in April and this is only my third competition with him so he’s new to me but I feel like he’s one of most talented I’ve ever sat on! I got to know him each day and he got better and better”, she said of the 11-year-old Baloutine.
When she was asked if she thought US Chef d’Equipe, Robert Ridland, would be impressed by the great performances from all the American riders at this year’s CSIO in Rome with the Tokyo Games now only a few short weeks away, she replied “sure he’ll be pleased, but he’ll still be nervous!”
Meanwhile winner, David Will, knows he has found an exciting new partner in C Vier 2 who he first started competing in August 2020.
“I’m so lucky to be riding this horse. He still belongs to the breeder, and the daughter of the breeder - Janine Rijkens - rode him up to 4* level so I knew him for quite a while. Janine stepped down from showing a bit and the horse came to me through Dietmar Gugler who is a friend and business partner with the Rijkens family. Janine’s father got in touch with me to ride the horse and here we are!”
Asked what his expectations were coming to Piazza di Siena he said, “I knew he was in good form, he’s a special horse and he jumped great in the Nations Cup (0/4) and I knew we would have chance to be placed today if I didn’t make too many mistakes but I wasn’t hoping for the win so it’s great when it works out! It’s hard to say what it means when everything comes together and it pays off in the end!”
And asked if today’s result, as winner of the Rolex Grand Prix of Rome which is one of the most sought-after titles in the sport, might put him in contention for Tokyo he replied, “for me a championship was a bit out of the picture, but this is still one of the best horses around so you never know - I’ll stick to my plan and we will see what the future holds!”
The winner David Will with (from left) Stefan Muller - General Director Rolex Italia, Vito Cozzoli - CEO 'Sport e Salute', Virginia Raggi - Mayor of Rome and Marco di Paola - FISE President
@ CONI / Simone Ferraro