• Post category:HQ Pro
  • Reading time:5 mins read

Text: Megan Wright

The Grand Prix of the St Tropez leg of the tour proved to be by far the most difficult one to date.

Gregory Bodo designed an incredibly complex track with a very tight time allowed that proved to be a challenge for both horses and riders. 17 formidable obstacles stood between the riders and the finish line: two double combinations, one triple combination, and one triple bar at 1.9m wide!

39 combinations qualified for the Grand Prix. Four prior winners of the St Tropez GP qualified: Julien Epaillard from 2023, Malin Baryard-Johnsson from 2022, Peder Fredricson from 2021 and Jessica Springsteen from 2019. Five combinations were taking part in their first 5* GP. Of the 39 combinations that started, only 15 finished within the time allowed, and there were only four clear rounds. An insane 66 rails fell throughout the class.

The class had a rocky start; the first combination to finish without any time penalties was number 10 to go (Jean Luc Mourtier with Gravity Lch), yet unfortunately, they had two down at fences 5 and 13 but were still sitting in the lead with eight penalties. Andreas Schou came into the ring at 15th, having just four penalties at number 9 and finishing only 0.18 of a second out of the time allowed, putting him into the lead. Christian Kukuk was next to go with the brilliant 12-year-old stallion, Mumbai (Diamant de Semily x Nabab de Reve), having two rails down as well but finishing almost three seconds within the time allowed.

John Whitaker was the first rider to add a stride down to the combination at 6. Fence 5 was the triple bar which then walked a slightly long six strides down to the combination at six, upright to oxer. After him many riders made the decision to ride the line down in seven to protect the upright at 6a, as this combination proved to be a major speed bump in the course  falling 11 times.

H5 Ganesh Hero Z, a 10-year-old stallion, ridden by Carlos Guerreiro appeared in his first 5* GP. Ganesh is out of a mare by Diamant de Semilly and sired by the stallion, Gemini. Gemini is a clone of the TB gelding Gem Twist, who was ridden by Gregory Best receiving two silver medals at the 1988 Olympics. Moving quickly around the track he finished with only 1 down and more than 3 seconds within the time allowed, kicking Schou out of the lead.

After 18 riders, no clear was in sight, with the best result being four penalties. Max Kühner with the feisty EIC Up Too Jacco Blue, a 12-year-old gelding by the famous Chacco-Blue out of an Ard VDL Douglas mare, were the first combination to produce a clear round. The pair flew around the track finishing two seconds within the time allowed, proving that the track was perfectly suited to the quicker, sharper horse.

Julien Epillard, the 2023 winner, came in at number 24 on Donatello d’Auge (Jarnac x Hello Pierville). Together they blazed around the track to produce a clear round 4.5 seconds within the time and just like that we were ensured a jump-off.

After an amazing win for Kim Emmen and Katrin Echermann for the Cannes Stars in the GCL both riders rode picture perfect rounds, not touching a rail. That meant that each each combination jumped three rounds without a rail – an incredible achievement on its own. Yet both riders’ hope of the win were brought to an end with each of them getting a single time penalty.

Adding to a very short list of horses in the jump off, Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot, the 19-year-old gelding, jumped his fifth consecutive GP clear round. With this he joined Cassal (2016), Emerald van ‘t Ruytershof (2017) and Explosi0n W (2018) in achieving this feat. This clear secured Eduardo Alverez Aznar a place in the jump-off as well as securing his continued lead on the overall standings.

The final clear round of the class was from Simon Delestre aboard Cayman Jolly Jumper (Hickstead x Quaprice Bois Margot). Delestre has placed third in the last three St Tropez Grand Prix meaning that he would give it his all to improve on that. This electric gelding joining the jump-off would certainly mean of an exciting finish to the already exciting GP.

It was clear from this showing that the course was best suited to a specific type; a horse that moves quickly over the ground, covers distance, can compress and lengthen with ease, is efficient in the air, and doesn’t waste time. This demands a modern sporthorse and we see more and more of these kind of tracks in the modern showjumping world, making breeding careful and quick horses imperative.

The jump-off

The last two fences of the jump-off would be the most difficult, both fences being the most penalised fences from the first round, falling 9 and 8 times respectively. Nonetheless, the horses flew around the jump-off. First to go, Max Kühner, rode a fast clear, although taking a pull up to the last, possibly leaving some time open for the following three riders. Julien Epillard, lost out on his chance to have a consecutive win by having the last two ‘bogey’ fences down. Aznar and Delestre both managed a clear around the shortened track, but failed to come close to the incredible time set out by Kühner.

It was evident that EIC Up Too Jacco Blue was deserving of the St Tropex 5* GP win, with Max Kühner securing his second place ranking on the overall standings.