Robert Whitaker is best Brit at Royal Windsor as Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs lands back-to-back wins in the Rolex Grand Prix

Monday 06 May 2024

Robert Whitaker is best Brit at Royal Windsor as Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs lands back-to-back wins in the Rolex Grand Prix

Robert Whitaker was best Brit in the 5* Rolex Grand Prix at Royal Windsor with Caroline and Stephen Blatchford’s Vermento in a hot, star-studded jump-off.

Thirty-four competitors faced Portuguese course-designer Bernardo Costa Cabral’s 14-fence, 17-effort 1.60m track in front of a packed, enthusiastic and passionate audience.  The track demanded precision, bravery and athleticism, but 12 riders answered every question, including three British riders, to bid for the €500,000 prize fund.  The race was on!

Matt Sampson with James Davenport’s 16-year-old Daniel dismissed the pressure to set the target with the first clear while Tim Gredley followed and attempted to do the same but picked up one frustrating time fault on Imperial HBF to make a British one-two in the early stages.  Celebrations were soon curtailed as they steadily dropped down the order to seventh and eighth as riders took daring risks.  Defending his title, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs set the bar high from the eighth draw aboard Leone Jei.  Reigning European champion Steve Guerdat gave it his best shot, setting off in hot pursuit on Dynamix Del Belheme but failed to catch his Swiss compatriot, stopping the clock less than half a second behind and handing Martin his second consecutive Royal Windsor Grand Prix victory.

Drawn 10th, Robert sensibly didn’t push the 11-year-old stallion Vermento (Argento x Skippy 12) into a throw-caution-to-the-winds effort and wisely came home behind the Swiss top two, three seconds off the pace.  A podium place was thwarted by the last to go, Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet, as he slotted Bond Jamesbond De Hay into second place 0.35 seconds off the winning time, splitting Fuchs and Guerdat and pushing Robert into fourth.    

“I knew the jump-off would be very difficult today for me to be quicker than Martin, Steve and Gregory, but I did what I thought I could do with him [Vermento].  If I’d have been offered fourth place at the start of the week, I would have taken it, so I’m very happy,” said Robert.  “I enjoy it every time I jump at Royal Windsor, the setting is amazing and the crowd is always fantastic.”

Martin Fuchs was obviously delighted: “I knew I had to risk everything as I had some of the fastest riders in the world coming after me.  Leone Jei has a huge stride and with his energy and ability, I can leave strides out down the distances. It’s obviously fantastic, not just to win back-to-back but to be in the atmosphere here.  I only brought one horse this week, so it obviously puts a lot of pressure on the one class, but I felt confident after a good round on Friday.”

Robert had set the stage in the Manama Rose Show Stakes 1.50m speed as first to go of a class 26 with a flying round on the 15-year-old Evert (Amadeus x Indoctro).  They made short work of the 12 fences, but an unusual horizontal striped oxer and a vertical decorated with large plastic swans caused numerous problems for later riders. 

Robert was eventually beaten by numbers and dropped to fifth, late drawn Laura Kraut riding for The USA taking the win on Calgary Tame with 1.36 seconds in hand – “He’s tiny but very, very quick and so brave.”

Mid-drawn Scott Brash slotted Lady Pauline Kirkham’s 10-year-old Kannan daughter Hello Vittoria into third, 1.47 seconds off the pace. 

American visitor Natalie Dean proved the best in the Defender Under 25 competition with Dotcom D’Authuit.

Five from a field of 31 provided clear rounds over the 12-fence 1.40m track, Harrison Hattea heartbreakingly missing out on the jump-off on Come On Ferrari with one exasperating time penalty. 

First to go in the jump-off, Natalie made her Royal Windsor debut a winning one, following her trainer’s instructions to the letter to secure a quick clear on the Diamant De Semilly x Quidam De Revel 11-year-old mare Dotcom. 

“It feels great to be here and win at this amazing show!  My horse is very fast and always competitive at this level, so I knew to stick to my plan in the jump-off,” said Natalie, who is based with Ben Maher. “It’s incredible to be based with Ben. He told me to play the jump-off a bit safe as there were not many in it – his advice paid off!”

Olivia Sponer, 17, proved the closest rival on the 14-year-old Bingo Du Chateau (Quaprice Bois Margot x Royal Feu) 0.69 seconds in arrears with Jake Myers steering the 10-year-old J Superstar into the only other double clear and third.  

Royal Windsor Horse Show – Sunday, 5 May 2024  

5* Rolex Grand Prix

1st Martin Fuchs (SUI) & Leone Jei – 0/0 - 41.40 seconds
2nd Gregory Wathelet (BEL) & Bond Jamesbond De Hay – 0/0 - 41.75 seconds
3rd Steve Guerdat (SUI) & Dynamix De Belheme – 0/0 - 41.86 seconds
4th Robert Whitaker (GBR) & Vermento – 0/0 - 44.53 seconds

5* 1.50m Manama Rose Show Stakes

1st Laura Kraut (USA) & Calgary Tame – 0 - 56 .44 seconds
2nd Lorenzo De Luca (ITA) & Violino Il Palazetto – 0 - 57.80 seconds
3rd Scott Brash (GBR) & Hello Vittoria – 0 - 57.91 seconds

The Defender Under 25 Jumping Competition

1st Natalie Dean (USA) & Dotcom D’Authuit 0/0 - 33.94 seconds
2nd Olivia Sponer (GBR) & Bingo Du Chateau – 0/0 - 35.63 seconds
3rd Jake Myers (GBR) & J superstar – 0/0 - 35.67 seconds

 

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