Almost everybody has heard of a “grand slam.” In its most common use, it refers to when a baseball player hits a home run with the bases loaded, but it also has uses in equestrian sports from horse racing to show jumping and of course, our favorite eventing! When referring to the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, we’re specifically referring to the challenge of winning the three premiere competitions at the highest levels of eventing: Badminton Horse Trials and Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in Britain and the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in the USA. Ready to learn more about this incredible challenge, what it entails, and past winners? Let’s go!
The Grand Slam of Eventing is sponsored by Rolex and is made up of three of the top CCI5*-L competitions in the world. Since its inception back in 2001, only two riders have ever won the title, as it is an incredibly hard feat to accomplish. In order to win, riders can win the three competitions of Badminton, Burghley, and Kentucky in any consecutive order on different horses. Because of the close dates between the Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Badminton Horse Trials just one week later, it’s important that different horses be allowed with the same rider. It would be impossible for an equine athlete to recover from winning one CCI5*-L and travel overseas to the United Kingdom and be ready and able to win the Badminton Horse Trials in under a week.
The challenge is not one to be taken lightly, as history has proven time and time again that it’s a hard feat to achieve. Two of the three legs of the Grand Slam have been won by four different riders who came close to claiming the title – but not close enough. In 2006, Andrew Hoy of Australia won the Kentucky Three-Day Event on Master Monarch, went on to win Badminton Horse Trials on Moonfleet, and then just missed the title with a 2nd place finish at the Burghley Horse Trials in the fall on Moonfleet again. In a heartbreaking performance, Moonfleet and Andrew were in first place right until the final phase. Ahhh! So close!
Then in May of 2009, Oliver Townend of Great Britain won Badminton on Flint Curtis, Burghley on Carousel Quest and just missed with two entries who finished in the top ten of the Kentucky event. No stranger to winning at the Kentucky Three-Day, Oliver Townend went on in later years with a hat trick, winning the event three years running on Cooley Master Class in 2018 and 2019, and Ballaghmor Class in 2021 (there was no event held in 20202 due to COVID-19 pandemic). Amazing in and of itself, but still no Grand Slam…
The hunt continued with William Fox-Pitt nearly claiming the title on Parklane Hawk with wins in both the fall of 2011 at the Burghley Horse Trials, and spring of 2012 at the Kentucky Three-Day Event. However, he just fell short of the Grand Slam. Due to severe weather, the Badminton Horse Trials was cancelled in 2012 and a special meeting was held by equestrian governing bodies and sponsor, Rolex on how to address the challenge as at the time, William was a contender. Due to the extenuating circumstances and the rule being that all three events are to be won consecutively, the rules were clarified to state that should William Fox-Pitt win the 2013 Badminton Horse Trials, he would also win the Grand Slam of Eventing title. Even more interestingly, Andrew Nicholson of New Zealand won the 2012 Burghley Horse Trials and was entered into the Kentucky Three-Day. Had he won the Kentucky event, he and William Fox-Pitt would have for the only time in history, been competing simultaneously for the Grand Slam of Eventing championship. Intense!
Well, guess what happened? Andrew Nicholson followed up his 2012 Burghley Horse Trials win on Avebury with a win in Kentucky on Quimbo. That meant both he and William Fox-Pitt were competing at historic levels for the win + Grand Slam title at the 2013 Badminton Horse Trials that May. With a near-win landing Andrew Nicholson in 3rd place on Nereo, and William Fox-Pitt finishing 5th on Parklane Hawk, no new champion was crowned.
That brings us to the two winners of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing title…
Pippa Funnel of Great Britain was the sport’s initial winner in 2003 with wins at The Kentucky Three-Day Event on Primmore’s Pride, Badminton Horse Trials on Supreme Rock, and back on mount Primmore’s Pride for the win at Burghley Horse Trials that fall. It was more than 12 years later until the sport crowned another Grand Slam of Eventing winner. This time it was the soft-spoken German rider, Michael Jung who claimed the title. He had won in Kentucky on FischerRocana in 2015, but did not compete a horse a week later at Badminton so wasn’t eligible at that point.
In the fall of 2015, Michael Jung rode La Biosthetique-Sam FBW to victory over challenging Burghely, followed by a springtime 2016 win in Kentucky on FischerRocana FST. He then promptly flew back to compete less than a week later on his favorite La Biosthetique-Sam FBW at Badminton in May of 2016 where he wowed equestrians and sports enthusiasts alike with an incredible win to be crowned the Grand Slam Champion of Eventing. Michael also returned to the Kentucky Horse Park to rack up another win on FischerRocana win 2017 to make history winning three straight there for the first time ever, and on the same horse at that! With another win in 2022 on FischerChipmunk FRH, he now holds the record for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event as the first ever four-time winner, setting a world record for five-star finishing score, and logging his 11th five-star win. Wow! Michael was the only eventing rider to ever hold the European Champion, World Champion and Olympic Champion titles at the same time. As well back-to-back Olympic gold.
When it comes to eventing, as the only North American leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, we know you won’t want to miss out on your chance to see history being made. Even when someone doesn’t achieve this incredible feat, the competition is always riveting with amazing athletes in both horses and riders. But hurry, advanced ticket pricing ends soon so don’t miss your chance to get a great deal on tickets today! See you in April in Kentucky!