Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
Reigning Champions Valkenswaard United powered to victory in the first leg of the Global Champions League after an electrifying second round which went down to the wire in Mexico City.
While fans enthusiastically packed the grandstands, dancing to the team theme music and cheering on their favourite combinations, many of the world's best joined forces and once more took centre stage to decide the highly anticipated first round of the 15-leg Championship.
Top riders hailed the new format, and with the likes of Christian Ahlmann (GER), Daniel Deusser (GER), Simon Delestre (FRA), Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Jérôme Guery (BEL) all joining the GCL for the new season, the anticipation and excitement around the Global Champions League continues to grow.
Speaking during an interview with CNN World Sport, World Number 3 Daniel Deusser (GER) said: “For me it’s the first time that I’m in a [GCL] team, in the team of the Shanghai Swans with Alexandra Thornton, Jessica Springsteen, Roger-Yves Bost and Janne-Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann. To be honest I’m really excited. In my opinion we have a very good team."
Talking about the innovative competition, Daniel said: “It’s a new format, and not easy to bring it into the world of show jumping - a new format to make it straight away very famous. But I think for the second year it’s already very famous, a lot of riders are really, really excited to do that this year. The format changed a little bit compared to last year, which in my opinion is much better like that.”
Top British rider Scott Brash (GBR) of team Miami Glory agreed: “It's great to have a difference in the sport. I think that when you do something for the first time you're going to need some tweaks and I'm happy to see how the format has changed this year. It's going in the right direction and the whole sport is moving in the right direction which is really exciting for all the riders, the fans and viewers."
Christian Ahlmann (GER) spoke of his excitement of joining the GCL and new team Mexico Amigos, “I’m really looking forward to the whole season - I’m really proud to be in the team. I think we have a strong team and we are really, really motivated.”
Top French rider Simon Delestre spoke during the press conference of the opportunity to ride alongside fellow top riders from different countries. Speaking about St Tropez Pirates teammate Jerome Guery, he said: "I know Jerome since we were juniors together and it’s really fun to jump with him.” Jerome agreed: "Simon is my best friend, to make a team with him it’s really nice for me. I’m also really lucky to be in the team with him because he’s one of best riders in the world."
Leading going into today’s second leg of the competition by just one penalty ahead of the St Tropez Pirates, the Valkenswaard United team of Alberto Zorzi (ITA) and Bertram Allen (IRL) soon found themselves down in second place after four faults from Alberto and Cornetto K handed the lead to their closest rivals, whose first rider Simon Delestre (FRA) and Hermes Ryan produced a copy book clear.
Pressure was then heaped onto the shoulders of the penultimate combination, Jerome Guery (BEL) and Grand Cru van de Rozenberg, who had the chance to secure the win for the Pirates. Agonisingly, an exuberant performance from the 11-year-old chestnut gelding saw them collect eight faults, including knocking down the final fence, to put Valkenswaard United back in front.
Final competitors Bertram and Hector van d’Abdijhoeve showed nerves of steel during their round, which included a hairy moment when the grey gelding bucked going into the final line which caused them to have the penultimate fence down, but the unflappable Irish rider managed to successfully negotiate the one remaining fence and claim victory for Valkenswaard United.
Chantilly Pegasus and Miami Glory both completed on 12 faults but it was the Chantilly Pegasus team - which boast the youngest rider combination of all the 18 teams - with Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) and Martin Fuchs (SUI), who claimed third spot due to their quicker time.
Miami Glory couldn’t have done any more after both their riders, Paris Sellon (USA) and Scott Brash (GBR), produced clear rounds to help them climb the order from sixth to fourth. It was an impressive turn around in fortunes for the American rider and her stunning grey Cassandra as they improved on their 12 faults in Thursday’s opening round to leave the arena fault free today. Scott Brash and the flamboyant Hello M’Lady then produced a masterful display in the quickest time of the day to win the individual competition.
Harrie Smolders (NED) and Emerald NOP didn’t look quite at their brilliant best around the vast grass arena at Campo Marte, eight faults from them plus a gut wrenching four from Eric Lamaze (CAN) and Fine Lady 5 at the final fence, put pay to Hamburg Diamonds chances in this opening leg.
London Knights shot up the leader board after Eduardo Menezes (BRA) and Quintol and Enrique Gonzalez (MEX) and Chacna both produced fault free performances to add nothing to their first round score of 16 to move from ninth to fifth.
But it was reigning Champions Valkenswaard United who stole the show, throwing down the gaunlet to the rest of the field ahead of the 14 remaining legs. All eyes are now on Miami Beach, where home team Miami Glory will hope to enthrall their home crowd.
Jan Tops, Co-Founder Global Champions League: “We had an incredible week. The whole picture was like you wish a horse show was, even the ring if you walk in the morning and see around the nice colourful fences, everything was very, very special. The new format is fantastic for riders and horses. You are jumping two less classes and you have more possibilities, more options. The first round changed from the GP into the League final which is very interesting until the end, you saw how exciting it was. It’s very exciting until the last fence and it’s very easy to follow. Once you have a fence down there is no drop score which is much easier for the people to understand. As rider sometimes have tactics, you can change your horse and that makes a big difference. I think the new format is only a win win position. You saw a young man like Fuchs coming to the podium and it’s great to see. He’s been a talented rider for many years.”
Winning Team Valkenswaard United
Bertram Allen: “Following on from last year we knew how important it was to get off to a good start as it’s so competitive. We came here all set to go and were very good the first day, it was very big, and thankfully we could hold on to it.”
Alberto Zorzi: “I’m so happy to win the competition today with Bertram.”
Second Place St Tropez Pirates
Jerome Guery: “I'm really happy to be with Simon. Simon is my best friend, to make a team with him it’s really nice for me. I’m also really lucky to be in the team with him because he’s one of best riders in the world. His horse is amazing and jumped a double clear. For me I started well. In the first round my horse jumped really well but I did a bad choice I changed the bit for the second round and I lose a little bit the control. I had two down but I’m lucky to be with Simon as he did really well.”
Simon Delestre: “The show is really impressive and amazing arena, it’s really fantastic. It is one of the first shows for Ryan since Rio after his injury. He did two rounds with fantastic jump so I’m really happy with that. I know Jerome since we were juniors together and it’s really fun to jump with him.”
Third Place Team Chantilly Pegasus
Martin Fuchs: “Nicola is one of my best friends at the shows. We have a very young team. We support each other. I went to look at his warm up a bit, told him what should be the plan for the class. He came to me and told me better I should do a nice round as we could still be good in the team. Chaplin is a very fast horse, I saw that Scott was really fast with Hello M’Lady so my plan was to ride for the second place of the class and for sure to make the clear round for our team.”
Nicola Philippaerts: “We can be very happy in the team. We get along very well. We always have fun together at the showground. I’m just happy that we can ride again together and I’m looking forward to the rest.”
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