Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
In the final top-level competition before Olympic riders head to Rio, the Global Champions League ranking battle is on a knife edge with a wafer thin 1.5 points now separating the top two teams. The suspense and drama continued right up to the final rider in the final round with home team Valkenswaard United only narrowly clinging on to their overall lead.
Vowing to keep their Championship title dream alive, third place team rider Monaco Aces Maikel van der Vleuten revealed his team plan to "really go for it to bring the best horses we have for the team jumping.”
The rock solid Antwerp Diamond duo of Audrey Coulter and Jos Verlooy secured yet another podium for the team, taking home the silver medal and 27 more points to add to their tally, leaving them with 278 overall as they head to Rome. The pressure was on the home team Valkenswaard United this weekend, however Emily Moffitt and the legendary John Whitaker kept cool heads and the overall ranking lead, coming away from The Netherlands with 279.5 points overall. Following their bronze medal, the Monaco Aces added another 25 points to their score, keeping third place but closing the gap to sit just 3.5 points behind the Antwerp Diamonds.
But it was Madrid in Motion who were the stars of today, with Rio-bound Pedro Veniss and new team member Alberto Zorzi storming to the win to help claim the team’s second gold medal of the year. “I will go [to Rio] tomorrow. It’s a very good feeling to win just before I go - it’s going to be two very important weeks but I think we have a good team in Brazil so I hope to do well.” Another podium winning rider now looking ahead to the Olympic Games is home hero Maikel van der Vlueten of the Monaco Aces. Following the press conference he said: “If I look to myself I had a great feeling today. My horse jumped super and I think I rode in the right way - I think that’s important and it gives me good confidence to the Olympics next week, as that’s where the focus goes now completely. I think I can go there with a good feeling.”
The first round showcased some serious 1.55m fences, testing many of the combinations as they took the expansive grass arena. Faults came from all over the course however the first to go clear was Faleh Al Ajami with Come Soon for Doha Fursan Qatar. He was soon followed by brilliant rounds from Jessica Springsteen with Tiger Lilly for the Shanghai Swans and John Whitaker who brought out top stallion Argento for Valkenswaard United’s home event.
Following the recent transfer window period, Madrid in Motion team member Alberto Zorzi also jumped a brilliant clear with a horse he’s ridden for just two months, however picked up an unlucky time fault, leaving the team on a score of 1 overall. Georgina Bloomberg rode a beautiful clear with Crown for Miami Glory, but Kent Farrington’s eight faults saw them just shy of the next round. With the pressure of teammate Marco Kutscher picking up an unusual 13 fault, the U25 talent of Kevin Jochems jumped a stunning clear for the Cannes Stars with his horse Flugel van't Palmenhof, however joined the Vienna Eagles and Rome Gladiators as the four teams eliminated from the second round.
It was the Monaco Aces who came up trumps, leading the way into round two with a faultless score from Leopold van Asten and Maikel van der Vleuten, closely followed by the Antwerp Diamonds’ Jos Verlooy and Audrey Coulter who also went through with a score of zero however with a slower combined time. Madrid in Motion carried through their one time fault, closely followed by the Shanghai Swans, Doha Fursan Qatar, Valkenswaard United who all went through on four faults, plus the Cascais Charms on eight. The Paris Jets were the final team through, with heavy-weights Gregory Wathelet and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson picking up four faults each in the challenging competition.
The second round course was another true test, raising the stakes in the top level competition. The flowing course encouraged a galloping pace, utilising the full length of the arena, with a mix of oxers and verticals to mix up the rhythm and ask questions of the riders, requiring careful planning and adaptability. Alexander Thornton and Charielle were the first to go clear, carrying through the four faults for the Shanghai Swans. Next to ride faultlessly was Alberto Zorzi and his relatively new mare Danique, who rocketed Madrid in Motion back up to the top of the leaderboard so far, carrying through their one time fault overall.
The pressure was on for Audrey Coulter of the Antwerp Diamonds as the first to go of the team into round two. A pole down meant the team would be on a combined score of four, giving the Monaco Aces a rail in hand, but putting the pressure on her teammate Jos Verlooy to jump clear. All eyes were on the next rider to enter the ring, home hero Maikel van der Vleuten, and the experienced Monaco Aces rider delivered yet again, jumping double clear with VDL Groep Arera C.
The pressure then turned back to Madrid in Motion, with Pedro Veniss requiring a clear to be in with a chance of the win. In his final competition before his home Olympic Games, the Brazilian jumped perfectly with his 11 year old mare For Felicia, keeping the team score on one fault overall. Jos Verlooy was the next to take the reins for the Antwerp Diamonds, and despite the pressure the U25 rider rode a stunning round with his formidable grey stallion Caracas - one of the Belgian’s top horses - and came home fast to finish with four faults combined and a combined time of 153,24.
The final rider to enter the ring was Monaco Aces Leopold van Asten, watched on by his team members from the sidelines. Leopold rode VDL Groep Beauty superbly around the tough course, but rolled a rail in the final stage of the round, collecting four faults for the team. Despite the Dutch rider’s best efforts, their combined time was slower, leaving them just behind the Antwerp Diamonds with a score of four faults and a combined time of 155,73.
Jan Tops, Co-Founder and President Global Champions League: “If you see [the result today] you wouldn’t believe it's 1.5 points [difference] after 12 legs. It’s so close and that makes it so exciting; for the first 3 or 4 teams everything is still possible. The Antwerp Diamonds are so close to Valkenswaard United - they will really be taking their best horses [to the following events]. The Monaco Aces got an unlucky fault from Leopold but they are still in the race to win. It is a fantastic comeback for Madrid in Motion, today [they rode] a very solid 4 clear rounds; only Alberto had 1 time fault but they jumped great. Valkenswaard United didn’t win today but they’re still the overall leaders, and that’s what it is about - they were good hosts and let the others win today!”
Pedro Veniss, Madrid in Motion - 1st place: "I am very happy today with my mare, she jumped fantastic and I am very happy to be with Alberto in the team. He’s a top rider and it's first time for him [with Madrid in Motion]. I will go [to Rio] tomorrow. It’s a very good feeling to win just before I go - it’s going to be two very important weeks but I think we have a good team in Brazil so I hope to do well."
Alberto Zorzi, Madrid in Motion - 1st place: "This is the first time with my new team - I rode Danique and today she jumped very good. My friend Pedro jumped amazing and we won!"
Jos Verlooy, Antwerp Diamonds - 2nd place: "Our horses jumped very good today. Audrey was quite unlucky in the 2nd round, so I knew what to do in the 2nd round because I saw Pedro and he was clear so I knew we were going to be 2nd maybe 3rd - I thought I should try to do a fast round incase I had a fault but knew it was more important to go clear, so that’s what I did and its good to finish 2nd and getting closer to Valkenswaard United."
Audrey Coulter, Antwerp Diamonds - 2nd place: “It’s really close and you know each time we are getting closer and closer to [the leaders]. What matters is the results at the end so we are trying to keep it up, keep consistent and keep trying to chip away at Valkenswaard United."
Leopold van Asten, Monaco Aces - 3rd place: "I think it is special but I think what makes this concept so interesting and exciting because you can compete with a lot of different nations in one team and I think that is great for the sport."
Maikel van der Vleuten, Monaco Aces - 3rd place: "I think it is a good today we were a bit unlucky with the round from Leopold but that can happen and we have to look forward now as we are in 3rd place. We can be happy with that but of course we really tried everything in the last 3 legs to go a bit higher in the total overall. It is important that we make the right plan and really go for it to bring the best horses we have for the team jumping and see where we end up."