Gregory Wathelet has million reasons to win Longines Masters of Hong Kong on debut visit

Belgian star is in the running for a big payday after winning in Paris and needs to make it three in a row in Hong Kong and Los Angeles

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2017, 9:47pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2017, 12:36am

Gregory Wathelet is trying hard not to get distracted during his first visit to the Longines Masters of Hong Kong but there’s the promise of 1 million (HK$8.26 million) lurking there at the back of his mind.

And that makes things difficult.

As winner of the Longines Grand Prix in Paris in December, the Belgian put himself in the running for the series’ Grand Slam Bonus which would boost his bank balance to that healthy degree. He needs to first win the Grand Prix event here on Sunday – and then go on to make it three in a row at the Longines Masters of Los Angeles where the next series kicks off in September.

But a man is allowed to dream, even if just a little.

Watch: Gregory Wathelet in action

“We just try to ride every week and to win every Grand Prix,” said Wathelet. “But yes from when we came here, at the side of my mind is the bonus. I can’t only ride for it though as for sure then I wouldn’t win. The Grand Prix here is most important. If I win on Sunday then I will think a little more about that bonus.”

The Grand Slam is modelled on the equivalent found in tennis, only riders in the Longines Masters series still get a prize if the three-in-a-row is split across two seasons.

Win all three in one season and the jackpot is an impressive 2.5 million. But so far in this series the two events have been split between Daniel Deusser in LA, and then Wathelet, who triumphed by just 0.22 seconds over Ireland’s Bertram Allen in Paris, with Germany’s Deusser third.

“It was an amazing show in Paris and to win really was something special,” said Wathelet. “In the end everything just went right for me.”

Previously, at this time of year, Wathelet could be found training up his team of young horses in France, but the win in Paris changed his priorities somewhat.

Watch: Bertram Allen at the 2016 Hong Kong event

“Normally this is the six weeks I spend with my young horses. It’s very important for me as they are my future,” said Wathelet.

“But I when I won in Paris I knew I would be stupid not to come here and try to win again. I have always wanted to try it here so what better reason could there to come than now.”

Deusser, the number one-ranked show jumper in the world, had a chance to put himself in the box seat for that 2.5 million Super Grand Slam Bonus in Paris, but fell agonisingly short.

The German has warmed to the task ahead across the weekend and while his Grand Slam dream for this season is over, there’s the little matter of the US$400,000 up for grabs at AsiaWorld-Expo on Sunday to keep him inspired.

“It’s a great feeling to be world number one,” said Deusser. “It actually proves to you that all the hard work, all the training and riding is good. Otherwise you wouldn’t get the results. There is pressure because you have to try and stay there. But that’s the nice part of the sport also – you have to keep working hard.

“I’m quite confident here. It’s tough company but I think I have a good chance.”

Deusser is certainly the form rider this weekend, cleaning up on Saturday with victory in the afternoon’s AsiaWorld-Expo Trophy, before producing a stunning circuit to capture the highlight of the night’s action, the US$95,500 Longines Speed Challenge.