The pinnacle class of the five-star Dutch Masters in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, came in the form of Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping where USA’s McLain Ward keep his Grand Slam dream alive when winning the class with HH Azur. The pair also won the Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva at the end of 2022, making them live contenders.

Some 35 horse and rider combinations, including eight of the world’s top 10, started over Louis Konickx’s expertly designed 17-obstacle course. Some 16 managed to make it through to the second round, where world number one, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann laid down the gauntlet with a breathtakingly fast clear in the time of 38.52 seconds with King Edward, however this lead was soon eclipsed by Frenchman Julien Epaillard, who came home 0.46 seconds faster with Donatello d’Auge.

Ward then stepped up the pace once again to keep his chances of the Rolex Grand Slam alive with the brilliant 17-year-old mare HH Azur clocking 37.86 seconds. France’s Simon Delestre looked to take the win away from Ward finishing 0.09 seconds faster, but heartbreak came when the final Rolex oxer fell. Epaillard finished second ahead of von Eckermann in third. Six more combinations produced double clears.

Ward, who sacrificed the five-star week in Wellington to travel to the Dutch city, won €330,000 in victory, plus a €500,000 bonus for winning two Rolex Grands Prix in a row. If Ward can win the Grand Prix in Aachen, he will earn another €1,000,000 bonus and the Grand Slam title, won only once before in 2015 by Scott Brash.

Ward commented: “I’m always optimistic, I would not have come all this way if I did not think we had a chance. But when you are someone who wants to succeed to the degree that I do, you are always questioning everything. Then throw in the mix that we have been competing outdoors. Questions go through your brain and challenge you, but we answered them today at least.”

Talking about HH Azur, he added: “We don’t show her very often. She only did one show between Geneva and Den Bosch. She really knows the game, we try to keep her fit and really healthy. I am also honest with myself, asking does she feel good enough to keep asking this test at this age, and she keeps answering with a resounding yes!”