Checker 47 and Christian Kukuk Score Rolex Grand Prix Victory at Wellington International

Christian Kukuk & Checker 47, winners of the $500,000 Rolex CSI5* Grand Prix. Photo by Sportfot

Edited Press Release

Germany’s Christian Kukuk and Checker 47 clinched a win in the $500,000 Rolex CSI5* Grand Prix during the finale ‘Saturday Night Lights’ of the Winter Equestrian Festival’s (WEF) 2024 season on March 30. From final draw, Kukuk made his Wellington debut a winning one in the last of a 12-week run of FEI competition in front of a sold-out crowd at Wellington International.

“I had goosebumps after that last fence,” said Kukuk, 34. “It’s an incredible feeling. I had only heard about Wellington and the Rolex week before this. I brought my two best horses and everything went exactly how I wanted.”

After finishing the runner-up in the qualifier earlier in the week on Mumbai, Kukuk piloted 14-year-old Westphalian gelding Checker 47 (Comme Il Faut 5 x Come On), owned by M.H & Partner GBR, to top call in his first-ever Rolex Grand Prix win.

“These [Rolex classes] are the best grand prix events in the year—we all know that—and we all work for them in the end,” said Kukuk. “This crowd and this stadium are special. To be last to go and win is an incredible feeling.”

Christian Kukuk receives his Rolex watch from Kyle Younghans, Sports Marketing Manager, Rolex Watch USA. Photo by Sportfot

The evening’s courses were designed by Guilherme Jorge’s (BRA), who is named as the Jumping Technical Delegate for the Paris Olympics this summer. Kukuk tackled the jump-off track with the foot speed of Checker 47, his winning mount from the 2023 FEI Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona, Spain, to unseat current leader and local crowd favorite Mclain Ward (USA). 

“The pressure was a bit on and I could feel it in the warm-up, but I need that to be honest,” continued Kukuk, who posted a time of 35.82 seconds over Ward’s 36.24 seconds. “I knew I could not do the same strides [as Mclain], but I could try to turn a bit tighter after the double and that worked very well. When I landed, I knew I could be close so I tried everything I could and left one out to the last.”

Christian Kukuk, Mclain Ward and Karl Cook in their podium presentation with Kyle Younghans, Sports Marketing Manager, Rolex Watch USA (second from right); Wellington International President Michael Stone (left); Marsha Dammerman (second from left) presenting the Dennis Dammerman Perpetual Trophy; and Ludger Beerbaum (right). Photo by Sportfot

Ward introduced a new mount, Ilex, to the bright lights of Wellington International. The 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Baltic VDL x Chin Chin) Ward owns together with Bonne Chance Farm is the former mount of Brazil’s Fabio Leivas da Costa. 

“I didn’t leave much on the table,” admitted Ward, a two-time U.S. Olympic team gold medalist. “I started riding this horse seven weeks ago, and tonight I had a good feeling of putting the pieces together. I haven’t jumped him off before, but I knew we had a big stride and he’s very honest. He bucked a little after the double and I think I lost a touch of time there. 

“Show jumping is a real passion here and there’s a great following,” continued Ward of the ‘Saturday Night Lights’ crowd. “These Rolex Grand Prix are a notch above everything else in the world and are events that all the top riders aim for. It was great sport for great sporting fans.”

Mclain Ward & Ilex. Photo by Sportfot

Karl Cook (USA) capped the podium aboard Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet, a 14-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Thunder VD Zuuthoeve x Flipper d’Elle), owned by Helen Signe Ostby. Cook’s early clear set a pace of 36.62 seconds, which ultimately landed him third.

“She has been energetic since day one and I think there’s something about her where she knows what the event is,” said Cook of Kalinka rising to the five-star occasion. “You can feel her energy when she’s in classes like this with the crowd and atmosphere; she gets better in it. I’ve shown up here the second half [of the season] and it’s worked. Last year, I was fourth in this class and this year, I’m third. I am happy with that, and it was an unbelievable class.”

Karl Cook & Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet. Photo by Sportfot

To close the evening, winning groom and Checker 47’s caretaker Sofie Karlsson was honored with the $500 Grooms Award, presented by Double H Farm’s Quentin Judge and Cayce Harrison.

Winning groom and Checker 47’s caretaker Sofie Karlsson is honored with the $500 Grooms Award, presented by Double H Farm’s Quentin Judge and Cayce Harrison. Photo by Sportfot

The 2024 WEF comes to a close on Sunday with the $62,500 Vogel CSI2* Grand Prix and the $50,000 BlueCreeq Spirits National Grand Prix, as well as the WEF 12 Parade of Champions in the International Arena.

Top Five Results: $500,000 Rolex CSI5* Grand Prix

  1. Christian Kukuk (GER) & Checker 47: 2010 Westphalian gelding (Comme Il Faut 5 x Come On)
    Owner: M.H & Partner GBR
  2. Mclain Ward (USA) & Ilex: 2013 Dutch Warmblood gelding (Baltic VDL x Chin Chin)
    Owners: Mclain Ward & Bonne Chance Farm
  3. Karl Cook (USA) & Kalinka van’t Zorgvliet: 2010 Belgian Warmblood mare (Thunder VD Zuuthoeve x Flipper d’Elle)
    Owner: Helen Signe Ostby
  4. Daniel Bluman (ISR) & Ladriano Z: 2008 Zangersheide (Lawito x Baloubet Du Rouet)
    Owner: Over The Top Stables, LLC
  5. Ben Maher (GBR) & Dallas Vegas Batilly: 2013 Selle Française mare (Cap Kennedy x L’Arc De Triomphe)
    Owners: Pamela Wright, Charlotte Rossetter & Ben Maher