Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
Valkenswaard United regain control of the Global Champions League Championship, after a tactical last minute substitute in a night of high drama on the French Riviera. Dramatic scores and big surprises came fast and furious as the provisional standings were shaken up throughout the competition.
The Championship fight could not be more intense, with the United team knocking Hamburg Diamonds off the top spot in the rankings and rocketing the blue and orange team back up to the top with 123 points overall. With Marcus Ehning and Alberto Zorzi joining forces for the intense final round in Cannes, the talented duo pulled off masterful clears to shoot them to the GCL Cannes win.
Hamburg Diamonds’ Audrey Coulter and Jos Verlooy also put in stunning performances, with each U25 rider clear for the team. However the 16 faults collected from Round One meant the Diamonds had to settle for third on the podium in Cannes, and second on the overall rankings, just four points behind Valkenswaard United.
The action came right down to the wire, with the St Tropez Pirates finishing on a shock result, despite their pole position on Thursday. Although Simon Delestre went clear, the team quickly tumbled down to fifth this evening, after teammate Jerome Guery collected an agonising 12 faults in the final round of the competition. Despite this, the team remain in third overall, with a tally of 103 points to their name and all the hunger to bounce back for a stronger result in Monaco.
Thousands of spectators packed the grandstands and luxurious VIP hospitality, settling in for an evening of top sport and world class entertainment. As the sun set across the sparkling Mediterranean, Uliano Vezzani built a course that encouraged riders to push fast through the first section, with the time allowed given at 80 seconds. Making full use of the tight sand arena, the long winding course was set at 1.55/1.60m, with the GCL final doubling up as a qualifier for the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Cannes.
The last line was challenging, with the Longines combination set away from the in-gate and an imposing oxer in to five strides to a double combination on a slight angle - a gappy vertical and a light coloured plank to finish. Conscious of the time allowed, riders had to balance jumping the final line with one eye on the clock, with many only just inside.
Of the first team riders to go, Denis Lynch and All Star 5 of Miami Glory, Jos Verlooy with Caracas of Hamburg Diamonds, Alberto Zorzi with MHS Going Global of Valkenswaard United and Eric van der Vleuten with Wunschkind 19 all went clear, putting the pressure back on the shoulders of their teammates. The time allowed caused a few difficulties, with U25 riders Alexandra Thornton of the Shanghai Swans and Evelina Tovek of the Mexico Amigos picking up gut-wrenching time faults despite their superb clears.
Home hero Simon Delestre of the St Tropez Pirates put in another tidy round with Hermes Ryan, the small chestnut gelding manoeuvring beautifully around the tight course to help put the team in the best possible position for the win. The crowd cheered in appreciation as the popular rider galloped to the finish, with Simon delightedly praising Ryan as they exited the arena.
Olivier Philippaerts of the Rome Gladiators put in a stunning try with the grey H&M Legend of Love, but had everything to do after his teammate Abdel Saïd had collected 12 faults. Roger-Yves Bost of the Shanghai Swans had the crowd on the edge of their seats as the French rider blazed around the course. Following a horse change between rounds, Bosty guided Pegase du Murier perfectly around the arena to finish clear, and combined with teammate Alexandra Thornton’s time fault, the Swans were able to keep hold of second in this evening's leaderboard.
Valkenswaard United were another team to put strategy in the spotlight with a late rider change, after Marcus Ehning was fielded with his top gelding Pret a Tout. The top German rider masterfully powered around the course, making neat work of the challenging fences, and keeping the team on a total of 10 faults overall.
The tension could be cut with a knife, as the pressure rose for the remaining riders. Miami Glory were looking strong for a podium finish, until an uncharacteristic 16 faults from Scott Brash and Hello Forever plummeted the team down the standings and out of contention for the win. All eyes turned to Bassem Hassan Mohammed of Doha Fursan Qatar, with the team on 12 faults overall to keep the podium finish. But the pressure was too much, with Bassem collecting 9 faults and putting the team on a total of 20 and down in sixth.
It all came down to the final rider to enter the ring, with Jerome Guery of the St Tropez Pirates shouldering a heavy weight of expectation. More tactics had come into play, with Jerome swapping horses to compete with LGCT Grand Prix of Miami Beach winning Grand Cru van de Rozenberg. Spectators held their breath as the pair cruised around the course, but it started to unravel after they had a pole down. The crowd groaned as yet more poles fell, with Jerome collecting an unusual 12 faults and dropping the team down to 5th overall.
So it was Valkenswaard United who regain control of the Championship lead, with the team now on 123 points. The League now looks to Monaco, where round seven will see teams fight for the win in the smallest arena in the circuit. Which horses will be best suited to the tight, intense layout, and which of the star strikers will each team field as the battle for the top intensifies?
Jan Tops, Co-Founder Global Champions League: "We started our partnership with Cannes 12 years ago when we created Global Champions Tour. Everybody loves to be here in the South of France. It has always been a great atmosphere, a special Riviera atmosphere. Today was very exciting to watch. Until the last rider had a few mistakes and the whole thing changed. Valkenswaard United and Hamburg Diamonds jumped two great double clears and moved up the ranking. The riders are putting their best horses into the League. Everything is still open which is what every League wants to see until the end."
Francois Bourey, President Jumping Cannes: "That was a really super team competition. The way we have the Grand Prix with 25 riders is fantastic for the public and for the atmosphere. The League is going to be very successful in the next years and we are sure to be with you to support that competition."
Marcus Ehning, Valkenswaard United: "I think we had the perfect strategy. We have a really strong team. Really, really good riders. I saved my horse and today he was ready and he made it easy."
Alberto Zorzi, Valkenswaard United: "I am so proud of our team. It is the second time for me and Marcus together and today was very good for us to win. And the horse was super."
Alexandra Thornton: "I think a lot can change with this League and we have seen that. It was nice riding with Bosty here. We had nothing to lose and I’m surprised we ended up where we are. Every week is a challenge - I'm just trying to do my best and keep up with everyone else."
Jos Verlooy, Hamburg Diamonds: "I had to do something good and I was really motivated to do that. I'm so happy my horse jumped clear."
Audrey Coulter, Hamburg Diamonds: "There was definitely some pressure but as we didn’t have a good start Thursday, today was about doing the best we could. We are hoping to be consistent through the League to keep us higher on the ranking during the series. We concentrated on being in the top 10 and came in 3rd which was very nice."