Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
It was a battle for the French Riviera as a night of high drama saw a shock exit from home team Cannes Stars while St Tropez Pirates stole pole position in emphatic style.
Talking about their powerful performance in Cannes, Pirates rider Jérôme Guery said “I’m really happy. I knew I’d have to ride clear [for us] to stay in the competition as I had a little pressure on me, but I’m really happy with my horse.” Teammate and best friend Simon Delestre agreed the team had propelled themselves into the best possible position: “It’s good to be in the lead, and we knew we had to jump clear to be in with a chance. We have a very good team spirit - we are good friends and we want to fight for each other.”
Uliano Vezzani’s course was a tough test for the world’s best, with multiple fences causing headaches for the team athletes at the Global Champions League of Cannes. Making full use of the space, Uliano’s winding circuit featured signature gappy oxers and a colourful treble across the diagonal line. The biggest challenge however was the penultimate fence; an imposing full height stack of planks, featuring a colourful image of a super yacht which caught the eye of many horses.
While there was plenty of drama, several riders and horses shone under the spotlight, with clears coming from St Tropez Pirates' Jerome Guery, Miami Glory’s Scott Brash, London Knights’ Ben Maher and Shanghai Swans’ Roger-Yves Bost, much to the delight of the watching spectators.
U25 star Emily Moffitt put in an impressive round alongside teammate Ben Maher to propel the team up to third place, with the young British rider carefully guiding Hilfiger van de Olmenhoeve around the tricky course. Another young star to shine was Evelina Tovek of the Mexico Amigos, who rode Castello clear but picked up a costly time fault. Teammate Christian Ahlmann on the other hand picked up an unusual 13 faults with stallion Colorit, putting the team down in 8th ahead of Saturday’s final.
First to fall foul of the planks was Cascais Charms rider Nicola Pohl and Rowan, after a double refusal eliminated the team from the rest of the competition. The fence caused drama throughout the field, after home team rider Ludger Beerbaum of the Cannes Stars followed suit with Chacon, as did Chantilly Pegasus’ Lucy Davis with Cassis 54. Daniel Deusser of the Shanghai Swans also had a first refusal with SX Hidalgo v. but managed to convince his bay gelding to jump it, saving the team from elimination but dropping them down to 10th overall.
Doha Fursan Qatar’s strategy of consistency once again paid off, with Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani and Bassem Hassan Mohammed collecting four faults apiece to put them on a team total of eight. In second position heading into the final, the team will be hoping for another podium result, with the overall GCL ranking battle tighter than ever. Current leaders Hamburg Diamonds finished tonight in 11th, after star striker Harrie Smolders and Jos Verlooy picked up eight faults each.
Snapping at their heels are long-time leaders Valkenswaard United who, after a strong fifth with Alberto Zorzi and Janika Sprunger, will be hoping to leap ahead and back up to the top of the hotly contested rankings.
The tough test tonight will see teams now planning their strategy for Saturday’s round two showdown, deciding which horse and rider combinations to field to gain maximum advantage in the compact sand arena and under floodlights on the Côte d’Azur. Fans will be waiting to see which teams tactically change riders or horses, as they make their calculations from the scoring of tonight’s results.
The GCL Cannes final will kick off on Saturday 10th June, at 18:30 local time. For the full results, please click here.