It’s Saturday night in Aachen, Germany and you’re seated high in the bleachers of the main stadium, the famous grass field laid out before you like a colossal green blanket.

The stands are full, holding somewhere near 40,000 people, all awash with delight as they’ve just watched hometown boy Richard Vogel, Prince of Aachen, take his fourth victory of the week in the Sparkassen Youngsters Cup aboard 8-year-old KWPN gelding Levi Noesar (Zirocco Blue x Baloubet, bred by Jur Vrieling, former rider of the famous sire).

But this is hardly the main event of the evening!

That event is the Merkur Casino Cup, a competition that combines eventing, show jumping, and four-in-hand driving in a dramatic relay.

This event is a fairly recent addition to the CHIO Aachen program, having been introduced in 2021, doubtlessly to fire up the normally-sedate Aachen crowd. A crowd that observes propriety and remains largely hushed even during the most thrilling moments in ordinary sport competition, but no—not tonight!

The huge speakers that line the stadium in stacks are dusted off, music begins to play! A man with a booming voice and a giant microphone enters the field. He immediately gets the crowd to start up “The Wave.”

We watch as suddenly-boisterous Germans balance plates of frites and crêpes in their hands as they quickly stand and up sit down again. I engage in what I call the “Lazy Man’s Wave,” which keeps the body firmly planted in the seat, but leaves arms free to participate fully.

The first team enters the field.

Each team consists of a group of elite athletes—these are the same athletes we see in the highest levels of competition here at Aachen. They are all game to throw it out on the field for the entertainment and amusement of the crowd.

And who do I see on Team Yellow? None other than this week’s perpetual winner, Richard Vogel!

But first, let me explain the format:

First, the eventer jumps a course of 12 cross country obstacles. This completed, he jumps off his horse and runs to a platform in the middle of the field. He also, at the same moment, and in the same space, triggers the show jumper to begin.

This is technically difficult for both eventer and show jumper, as the running path of the eventer overlaps the approach to the first show jumping obstacle, resulting in several near-misses. 

We in the crowd eat this up like we’re watching a bloody gladiator fight in ancient Rome. No blood tonight, however—these are professionals.

Next, the show jumper, who, in my mind, has the easiest time of it, jumps a short course of eight obstacles. His last jump lines up with the platform on which the eventer has ascended.

With barely time to catch his breath from his jumping course and sprint, the eventer is then made to run at full speed to the four-in-hand team, where he throws himself onto the moving cart. The driver and four horses then negotiate what to me, unfamiliar with this sport, seems like an impossibly difficult obstacle course, taking them up and over hills and through the Aachen infield lake, circling a jetting fountain that would spook a normal horse right out of the stadium!

This is it then. We had six color-coded teams: White, Blue, Green, Red, Orange, and Yellow.

It was an almost-Olympic level of international cooperation, with mixed-country teams comprising members from Ireland, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Belgium, and, of course, Germany.

Team White started us out, laying out a decent total time of 144.03, only to be quickly beaten by next in the order, Team Blue.

Team Green, upstarts from the New World, with Australian eventer Kevin McNab, Australian driver Boyd Exell, and Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa, laid out a time of 126.30 that proved impossible to beat. And not for lack of trying!

The biggest challenge to the top of the leaderboard came with the last team, Team Yellow. A team made up fully of German athletes. The crowd threw itself into a frenzy, which was hardly tampered by the week’s golden child, Richard Vogel, putting down a blazing fast fault-free round.

The crossing the last jump, the sprint of the eventer, the launch into the carriage, the take off! “Wow,” shouted my companion into my ear, “Look at that horse in the front on the right, he has extra energy!”

Extra energy, indeed.

The front horse on the right in the Team Yellow four-horse team sprinted ahead of his teammates and pulled the carriage…right off course!

Vogel’s triumph proved individual, with Team Yellow consigned to last in the results. It did not, however, stop him from lapping up the adulation of the crowd, circling the stadium on his mount to cheers and hoots as his teammates on the other side of the arena struggled over the finish line.

The finale came with the prize giving. The carriages rolled in, set up a blistering pace, and ran into the infield lake.

There, at a gallop, they circled the spurting fountain—three teams in tight formation, an unbelievable display of coordination! The fountain was turned up so that it shot nearly to the top of the stadium roofs, forcing more than one off-color joke amongst observers in the crowd. (I was responsible for three of them, all variations on a theme).

And that ended the Merkur Casino Cup.

First was awarded to Team Green (McNab AUS, Pessoa BRA, Exell AUS) at 126.30, second to Team Orange (Doel GBR, Kersten NED, Chardon NED) with a time of 129.32, and third to Team Red (Böckmann GER, Duguet SUI, Voutaz SUI) at 131.12.

A thrilling night of sport and entertainment!