“I had a very big aim for my horse for this week, and it was this Grand Prix,” Darragh Kenny said after winning the €500.000 Rolex Grand Prix presented by Audi.
Careful planning paid off for Kenny today. After opting not to come back for the second round in Friday’s big class, saving Balou du Reverton (Cornet Obolensky x Continue) for Sunday’s Grand Prix – all went according to the Irish rider’s plan. As last to go in a six-horse jump-off, he snatched the win from reigning World Champions Simone Blum and DSP Alice (Askari x Landrebell) by 0.48 seconds.
“I’ve had a lot of placings in Rolex Grand Prix competitions, but I never won one so it was very important for me to win today. I was fourth in Aachen and Rome as well as third in Geneva,” said the man who also was second in the Rolex Grand Prix of Knokke last year. “I’ve been getting close but not close enough!”
It was no easy task Kenny and the 46 other riders in today’s Rolex Grand Prix presented by Audi were faced with. Italian course designer Uliano Vezzani had built one of his trademark master-mind tracks, and in the end only six pairs managed to deliver clears to move on to the jump-off. “We have the best riders in the world here, it is an amazing show – for me one of the best events of the year – so I knew it was going to be tough,” Nicola Philippaerts – best of the Belgians as fifth placed – said about Vezzani’s demanding course after the Grand Prix.
As second out in the jump-off, it was Germany’s Simone Blum and her lovely DSP Alice that set the pace with a lightning fast round in 42.65 seconds – getting an incredible turn back to the Stephex oxer placed on the long-side by the VIP. Neither USA’s Margie Goldstein-Engle, the veteran in the field at the age of 61, nor young home hero Nicola Philippaerts could catch up – despite good attempts as the following riders in the ring. Ireland’s Bertram Allen gave it his everything with the scopey Harley vd Bisschop (Dulf van den Bisschop x Coronado), and came flying into the penultimate upright before giving full gas to the last but still could not match Blum’s time. With only one to go, it looked like it was going to go Blum’s way but Kenny had other plans. He set of determinedly with his impressive Balou du Reventon, leaving no doubt that he was in it to win. Cheered and whistled on by the Knokke-crowds, that had met up in large numbers enjoying the June-sun, Kenny kept on chasing the clock – and when crossing the finish line he could punch his hands in the air: The time showed 42.17 seconds, it was a win!
“My horse has been jumping fantastic,” Kenny told after the Grand Prix. “I really wanted to use this week to test a little bit ahead of the European Championships, and jump him three days here. He jumped incredible today, and answered every question that I asked of him.”
Second last year and a winner today, it comes as no surprise that Knokke Hippique is one of Kenny’s favourite venues. “It’s one of the best shows in Europe, absolutely brilliant and the organisation is fantastic!” Kenny – who also was awarded as Leading Rider in the CSI5* with a STX 2 Horse Truck for one year – said.
Although she was beaten, Simone Blum was far from disappointed. “I’m very happy with Alice, she jumped great today! I had to be fast, I knew I had Bertram and Darragh coming after me. I had a feeling I was not fast enough to the second last fence, so I was a little bit nervous. Still, Alice jumped all her Grand Prix classes clear this year and was first and second – it’s unbelievable,” Blum said about her once-in-a-lifetime horse. “Alice was fighting for me as always, I am so proud to have this horse!” she added.
Allen was another rider that was happy about being on the podium, even if it was not on the top. “Obviously I knew I had to be very, very fast to try and beat these guys so I had to take a bit of risk,” Allen commented on his flyer of an approach to the penultimate upright. “My horse answered all the questions very well, so I am absolutely delighted even with third today!”
After four days of incredible sport at all levels, from five-star to young horses, Event President Stephan Conter was all smiles. “Thank you to our amazing sponsors and partners, Rolex, Audi and of course Ghelamco and Knokke Heist. I am also so proud of my team for the job they do, I don’t know if they will still need me next year – they do a fantastic job!” Conter said.
On his 2020-plans for Knokke Hippique, Conter revealed that everybody will be in for a treat. “It is going to be something exceptional!” he said. “But what, I will tell you later!”
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