Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
Mexico Amigos relished a taste of the top spot today as a thrilling first round of Global Champions League action kicked off at the spectacular Spanish capital of Madrid. With the shadows lengthening across the spectacular grass arena, the 18 teams revved up the Championship battle at the first of the European legs, where there was everything to play for as the top combinations battled it out for pole position ahead of Saturday’s final.
Course designer Santiago Varela Ullastres made full use of the arena, throwing in a spooky water tray and an imposing treble combination down the long side in front of the crowd. Best suited to large galloping horses, brave of heart and bold jumpers, the course was a suitable test for the world’s best with the team riders joining forces to compete for bragging rights as the Championship battle changes gear once more.
Mexico Amigos' pairing of Henrik von Eckermann and Evelina Tovek showcased a perfect synergy, with the all-Swedish duo shooting to the top of the leaderboard with a flawless round. Evelina put in a composed effort with Castello, while Henrik shot to the top of the individual time sheets after a blistering round with the hugely scopey Chacanno. Snapping at their heels are the St Tropez Pirates anchor combination of Simon Delestre and Jérôme Guery. Best friends outside of the arena for years, this duo have proven to hold a consistently strong partnership, with another double clear propelling the team back into the Championship fight where they sit in second overall and re-opening hope for a title win.
Fans lined the arena, with the passionate crowd cheering on the riders and enjoying the warm setting sun. Many fans were already wearing the team polo shirt which are now available to buy online, showing their support for their favourite teams. Young fans enjoyed the Massimo Dutti pony area, allowing the next generation a taste of equestrianism, and with a shopping village, refreshments and plenty of world class action there was something for all the family during the first day of the event.
Young Cascais Charm star Philip Houston wowed spectators after he put in a stunning round with his 13 year old bay mare Kannella, propelling the team up the leaderboard and putting the U25 into the top spot individually for the first half of the competition. The team looked hot to contend for pole position as teammate David Will rode his fiery chestnut horse Mic Mac du Tillard beautifully around the course. Unluckily, the hot mare just clipped a vertical, and then rolled a pole in the treble combination, putting the team on eight faults overall, and dashing their hopes of taking the top spot.
New recruit for Miami Glory Denis Lynch put in a fantastic display with his relatively new mount RMF Echo, with the large striding horse powering around the course and the Irishman guiding the horse beautifully through the fences. Adding to Scott Brash’s earlier four faults the team look to be in strong position ahead of tomorrow’s final, finishing fifth today and carrying through their faults for tomorrow’s competition.
Another young star to impress was U25 rider Emily Moffitt who made a phenomenal return to CSI5* level competition, jumping a stylish clear with Hilfiger van de Olmenhoeve for the London Knights. Sadly it wasn’t enough for the second highest Championship ranked team, after 12 faults from teammate Enrique Gonzales dropped them down the order. Shanghai Swan’s Daniel Deusser had a shock result, with the anchorman for the team picking up 22 faults, adding to Alexandra Thornton’s four faults with Charielle.
Fans cheered as reigning champions Valkenswaard United put in another intimidating display, with Alberto Zorzi laying the ground work for the team with Cornetto K to keep the team clear on a zero score. Teammate and 2016 Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Madrid winning combination Marcus Ehning and Pret a Tout put together a foot-perfect round with the crowd on the edge of their seats right up until the treble combination, where the top German rider agonisingly rolled the final pole, dropping the title contenders down to sixth ahead of Saturday’s final.
Four teams in total went double clear, with Hamburg Diamonds' Audrey Coulter and Harrie Smolders showcasing a superb partnership and the formidable heavy-weight duo of Ludger Beerbaum and Marco Kutscher of Cannes Stars joining St Tropez Pirates and Mexico Amigos on a zero score.
The teams will now reset ahead of Saturday’s final which takes place at 15:30 local time. With the option to change horses and riders within the team, all eyes will be on tomorrow’s start list to see what strategies and tactics will come into play. Tune in to watch all the action live via GCL TV, with behind the scenes content, expert analysis and live studios featuring top riders.